Aaron Mate: As Arab states seek peace, US insists that Syrians suffer
Aaron Mate is a perceptive foreign policy journalist, often appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show discussing Ukraine and other issues. Here he discusses U.S. policy toward Syria, mentioning Israel as a “U.S. proxy” rather than the U.S. as Israel’s proxy in its ongoing war with the Arab world and Iran, as pressured by Israel Lobby, compliant politicians, and the neoconservative infrastructure that dominates U.S. foreign policy—the diplomats, the journalists writing for pro-Israel media, and the staff of prominent foreign policy think tanks.
For example, he mentions Josh Rogin, the presumably Jewish Washington Post columnist, who, “like the neoconservative diplomats he parrots, simply presupposes the US right to dominate their region. Indeed, as Rogin makes clear, for Washington’s Dirty Warriors, ‘stability’ means continuing to suffocate Syria, in a Middle East where Arab states only do what Washington ‘allows.'” He mentions the neocons but doesn’t get into their allegiance to Israel, nor does he discuss the role of the Israel Lobby, pro-Israel policy groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy [WINEP], Jews in the media, etc.—although he names a couple figures without identifying them as Jews or mentioning their history of pro-Israel activism.
It’s also interesting that missing from the rhetoric of the Biden administration and the pro-Israel activist groups is any serious discussion of what U.S. interests are at stake in Syria. Syria’s accepting aid from Russia and Iran is completely understandable given they have been and are faced with a very well funded, U.S.-supported insurrection — any port in a storm. And as usual, we hear moral outrage at unfounded claims that Assad has gassed Syrians.
But times are changing. The China-brokered deal between Iran and the Saudis is a signal that U.S. hegemony is on the wane as the Ukraine war is making new alliances and making countries around the world question whether U.S. military and economic (e.g., the U.S. dollar as reserve currency and its consequent enabling of sanctions] hegemony is still a reality
Having spent billions of dollars on a dirty war to overthrow Syria’s government, and then imposed crippling sanctions to prevent the country’s reconstruction, Washington is not pleased with the Arab League’s new expression of independence toward Damascus.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has responded with a measure that would intensify US sanctions and punish states who engage with Syria any further. “The readmission of Syria to the Arab League really infuriated members and made clear the need to quickly act to send a signal,” a senior Congressional staffer told Reuters. Accordingly, “The legislation is a warning to Turkey and Arab countries that if they engage with Assad’s government, they could face severe consequences.”
Those severe consequences include US sanctions on any country that lets a Syrian airliner land at its airports. Given that Syrian civilians travel on these flights, the bill’s authors effectively seeking a global “Syrian Ban” in the image of Trump’s original “Muslim Ban.” The Congressional measure also calls for a review of “any grants of $50,000 or more to Syria,” — a warning shot to anyone helping Syrians in need. …
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained the core sanctions principle in October 2021: “Our position is oppose the reconstruction of Syria.”
US officials apparently see no contradiction in expressing concern for the Syrian people while imposing policies that inflict mass suffering on them. According to the United Nations, Syria’s “economic and humanitarian situation is at its worst since the start of the conflict” in 2011. This includes an “800 per cent rise in food prices since 2020.” As US officials openly brag, US sanctions — particularly under the bipartisan 2019 “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act” — have played an instrumental role.
James Jeffrey, the former US envoy to Syria [and with a history of involvement with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the above-mentioned pro-Israel foreign policy forum], writes that the United States has “crushed the country’s economy through sanctions.” The EU and Israel, he boasts, have also pitched in to help “choke the regime’s economy through sanctions, holds on reconstruction assistance, and maritime interdiction” – i.e. seizing and even bombing ships that defy the US-led blockade. These sanctions give the US “considerable influence” in Syria’s future, Jeffrey explains, along with military occupations that have left “30 percent of Syrian territory… controlled by the U.S. and Turkish armies and their Syrian allies.”
Andrew Tabler, another former senior US official for Syria policy [presumably Jewish and, like Jeffrey, associated with WINEP] likewise boasts that US sanctions have destroyed Syria’s currency, leading to “corresponding cuts in regime subsidies that have exacerbated fuel and food shortages for everyday Syrians.” In welcoming “fuel and food shortages for everyday Syrians,” Tabler is not only making plain the sadism of US policy, but cutting through the propaganda used to justify it. Whereas US officials claim to only target the Syrian “regime,” Tabler is admitting that, in the real world, this means targeting the “regime subsidies” that provide for ordinary civilians’ basic needs.
As another former Syria envoy, Joel Rayburn, explained, US sanctions are able to so freely immiserate Syrians because the Caesar Act managed to “lower the bar” for imposing them. …
In short, US policy is to destroy ever major “sector” of the Syrian economy, regardless of whether or not there is any “evidence to prove” a “link” to its nominal “regime” target. In the name of helping the Syrian people, the US ensures that their economy is besieged, and the rubble of their destroyed buildings and factories left in place.
Ahead of Christmas last year, Rayburn celebrated his success: Syria’s “economy and state are collapsing”, he declared, with “no fuel/electricity”, “basic needs unaffordable,” schools shuttered, and “people desperate.”
As to why US diplomats would hail a country’s torment, they, along with their media allies, are equally candid that Syria’s independent existence is an affront to US hegemony.
According to Jeffrey, allowing an “Iranian and Russian strategic success in Syria, coming on the heels of the Afghan pullout, would endanger the decades-old American regional security system and the general security which it has provided.” The notion that US has provided “general security” to the Middle East happens to be at odds with public opinion there. In annual polls, Arab populations routinely list the US and its proxy Israel [!] as the top threats to their security. But Jeffrey is not concerned with the actual security of the Middle East region; instead, he recognizes that allowing Syria to evade US control would endanger a “decades-old American regional security system” based on US hegemony.
Accordingly, when Arab states increased outreach to Assad in late 2021, Jeffrey complained that “None of them have been told not to” by the US — the region’s real master.
Echoing Jeffrey, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin declared that the Biden administration “is sorely mistaken if it thinks that allowing regional players to reestablish diplomatic and economic ties with Bashar al-Assad will lead to greater stability.” Rogin does not explain who has granted Washington the authority to “allow” Arab states to have ties with their neighbor. This is presumably because Rogin, like the neoconservative diplomats he parrots, simply presupposes the US right to dominate their region. Indeed, as Rogin makes clear, for Washington’s Dirty Warriors, “stability” means continuing to suffocate Syria, in a Middle East where Arab states only do what Washington “allows.”
Rogin has particular disdain for Jordan’s King Abdullah II. In “leading a rapid regional normalization” of Assad’s government, Rogin fumed, the Jordanian monarch is running “counter to U.S.-Syria policy and counter to U.S. law.” Following Rogin’s logic, Jordan is not allowed to “counter” US policy in its relations with its own neighbors, and “U.S. law” does not just govern U.S. territory, but the Middle East as well.
The prevailing US colonialism toward Syria has been abetted by an establishment US media that has gone to extraordinary lengths to normalize it, as the Paper of Record has recently made clear.
In the aftermath of February’s devastating earthquake, the New York Times made the mistake of briefly acknowledging that “Syria is not able to receive direct aid from many countries because of sanctions.” This narrative error was quickly corrected: within one day, the Times erased that wording and replaced it to read that “the Syrian government tightly controls what aid it lets into opposition-held areas.”
Days later, the Times’ Declan Walsh followed up by noting that “the Syrian economy has nose-dived, strained by chronic food and fuel shortages” – not strained, of course, by US sanctions that – as more candid US officials like Jeffrey and Tabler openly admit — have caused those shortages.
The February earthquake posed a particular dilemma for supporters of US sanctions, which hinders Syria’s ability to rebuild. The Times’ Raja Abdulrahim captured this quandary in reporting of concerns from the Syrian opposition that the government may “now funnel money into the country under the guise of earthquake relief and instead use it for reconstruction of buildings damaged in the civil war.” Indeed, for the forces that tried to destroy Syria in one of the most expensive dirty wars in history, it would be unfathomable to allow the government to engage in the “reconstruction of buildings” destroyed in the process. The fact that the Biden administration subsequently allowed a six-month exemption for some humanitarian aid to Syria was a tacit admission that US sanctions explicitly hindered it.
From the US point of view, it is all the more unfathomable to let Syria rebuild given that its resistance to the dirty war was backed by two other Western foes, Iran and Russia. “Syria was one example of the effort by both to find ways to sap American strength and prestige wherever they could in the world,” the Times’ Neil MacFarquhar noted last year. Because these US rivals were able to help “sap American strength and prestige” in Syria, the country’s civilian population must accordingly pay the price.
The current policy of preventing Syria from rebuilding from a war that the US itself fueled reveals a fundamental contradiction that US officials and their media stenographers never acknowledge. Whereas the US claims to be punishing Syria for human rights violations during the war, it is an uncontested fact that the Syrian government was defending its own territory from an insurgency backed by the world’s wealthiest countries and dominated by sectarian death squads, namely Al Qaeda. (Additionally, when the US claims to be holding Syria “accountable” for using chemical weapons, it is never acknowledged that in all major cases, these allegations have been undermined by extensive Western leaks, including from the world’s top chemical watchdog, the OPCW). …
Indeed, the US proxy war in Syria was “one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A.,” the New York Times reported in 2017. Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a budget of nearly $1 billion per year [which should have been counted in U.S. aid for Israel], or around $1 of every $15 in CIA spending. The CIA armed and trained nearly 10,000 insurgents, spending “roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program,” U.S. officials told the Washington Post in 2015. Two years later, one U.S. official estimated that CIA-funded militias “may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.” …
Although the CIA’s program has long been shuttered, the guiding sadism prevails. For defending their country from US-backed sectarian mass murderers — and renewing ties in a region that the US has long dominated — the message from Washington is that while Syria’s devastating war has ended, its suffering will not.