Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

By Paul Craig Roberts

The answer to the question in the title of this article is that Russiagate was created by CIA director John Brennan. The CIA started what is called Russiagate in order to prevent Trump from being able to normalize relations with Russia. The CIA and the military/security complex need an enemy in order to justify their huge budgets and unaccountable power. Russia has been assigned that role. The Democrats joined in as a way of attacking Trump. They hoped to have him tarnished as cooperating with Russia to steal the presidential election from Hillary and to have him impeached. I don’t think the Democrats have considered the consequence of further worsening the relations between the US and Russia.

Public Russia bashing pre-dates Trump. It has been going on privately in neoconservative circles for years, but appeared publicly during the Obama regime when Russia blocked Washington’s plans to invade Syria and to bomb Iran.

Russia bashing became more intense when Washington’s coup in Ukraine failed to deliver Crimea. Washington had intended for the new Ukrainian regime to evict the Russians from their naval base on the Black Sea. This goal was frustrated when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia.

The neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony requires the principal goal of US foreign policy to be to prevent the rise of other countries that can serve as a restraint on US unilateralism. This is the main basis for the hostility of US foreign policy toward Russia, and of course there also is the material interests of the military/security complex.

Russia bashing is much larger than merely Russiagate. The danger lies in Washington convincing Russia that Washington is planning a surprise attack on Russia. With US and NATO bases on Russia’s borders, efforts to arm Ukraine and to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO provide more evidence that Washington is surrounding Russia for attack. There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack.

Washington is fully aware that there was no Russian interference in the presidential election or in the state elections. The military/security complex, the neoconservatives, and the Democratic Party are merely using the accusations to serve their own agendas.

These selfish agendas are a dire threat to life on earth.

Advertisements

 

In an interview with RT in 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uttered perhaps one of his most intriguing statements since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Assad stated:

“Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

“Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar…This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better.” [emphasis added]

Putting aside Assad’s vast and extensive list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Assad highlighted one of the major flaws in Western thinking regarding America’s hostile policies toward a number of independent states.

Just look at the current to-and-fro-ing between North Korea and the United States to gather an accurate picture of what is being referred to here. The problem of North Korea is consistently portrayed in the media as caused by one person (current leader Kim Jong-un), a narrative that ultimately ignores the role America and its allies have played in this current crisis. As Anti-Media previously highlighted:

 

“…the problem [North Korean crisis] is constantly framed as one caused by North Korea alone, not the United States. ‘How to Deal With North Korea,’ the Atlantic explains. ‘What Can Trump Do About North Korea?’ the New York Times asks. ‘What Can Possibly Be Done About North Korea,’ the Huffington Post queries. Time provides 6 experts discussing ‘How We Can Solve the Problem’ (of North Korea). ‘North Korea – what can the outside world do?’ asks the BBC.”

What the media is really advancing here – particularly when one talks about a military option as a response to dealing with North Korea’s rogue actions – is the notion that if the U.S. could only take out Kim Jong-un, the problem of North Korea would disappear.

Would the death of one man rid every single North Korean of the hostility and hatred they harbor toward the United States when many know full well that in the early 1950s the U.S. bombed North Korea so relentlessly they eventually ran out of targets to hit — that the U.S. military killed off at least 20 percent of the civilian population?

If Kim Jong-un is removed, will North Koreans suddenly forget that nearly every North Korean alive today has a family relative that was killed by the United States in the 1950s?

In the simple corporate media narrative, yes they will. Killing that one person and removing them from office will not only save the country they brutalize but will also provide security and stability for the rest of the world.

Never mind that prior to the U.S.-NATO onslaught of Libya in 2011, Libya had the highest standard of living in the African continent. The Times once admitted that its healthcare system was the “envy of the region.” Now, the country has completely collapsed, with well over two million children out of school, countless migrants drowning in its waters, extremism running unchecked and unchallenged, and traders openly selling slaves like a commodity.

Let’s suppose every single accusation against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was true (they weren’t); how can it be said that destroying a country’s infrastructure and assassinating its leader in flagrant disregard of international law is a realistic solution to any problem? If you oppose Donald Trump, would a Russian-led military intervention solve your problems with the country he rules over?

Forget what you think you know about Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro – the narrative Western governments and their media mouthpieces have promulgated for the last few decades remains completely nonsensical. You can’t solve Syria’s or Venezuela’s problems by removing their current leaders, especially if you attempt to do it by force. Anyone who claims this is possible is lying to you and is also too naïve and indolent to bother researching the current situations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq – to name a few.

The fact that the U.S. evidently doesn’t want to solve any problems at all – that it merely seeks to overthrow leaders that don’t succumb to its wishes – is a topic for a separate article but is certainly worth mentioning here as well.

The same can ultimately be said of Donald Trump. Since his election victory, many celebrities, media pundits, and members of the intelligence community have sought to unseat and discredit him. Yet Donald Trump is merely a horrifying symptom of America’s problems; to think he alone caused them and that by removing him from office the U.S. would suddenly become a safe-haven of freedom and liberty is nothing short of idiotic.

If you agree with the latter sentiment, you must also concede that the problems facing North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere could never be solved by the U.S. forcibly removing their leaders.

If Assad was removed from Syria, would extremism disappear or would it thrive in the political vacuum as it did in Iraq? Could Syria’s internal issues — which are much more extensive than the corporate media would have us believe — be solved by something as simple as removing its current leader? Can anyone name a country where this has been tried and tested as a true model for solving a sovereign nation’s internal crises? Anyone who truly believes a country’s problems can be solved in this facile way needs to do a bit more reading.

If you can recognize this dilemma, you can agree that it’s time for the media to completely undo the simplicity in its coverage of these issues and start reporting on the genuine diplomatic options that could be pursued, instead.

 

A new bombshell joint report issued by two international weapons monitoring groups Tuesday confirms that the Pentagon continues to ship record breaking amounts of weaponry into Syria and that the Department of Defense is scrubbing its own paper trail. On Tuesday the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) produced conclusive evidence that not only is the Pentagon currently involved in shipping up to $2.2 billion worth of weapons from a shady network of private dealers to allied partners in Syria – mostly old Soviet weaponry – but is actually manipulating paperwork such as end-user certificates, presumably in order to hide US involvement.

The OCCRP and BIRN published internal US defense procurement files after an extensive investigation which found that the Pentagon is running a massive weapons trafficking pipeline which originates in the Balkans and Caucuses, and ends in Syria and Iraq. The program is ostensibly part of the US train, equip, and assist campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, a coalition of YPG/J and Arab FSA groups operating primarily in Syria’s east). The arms transfers are massive and the program looks to continue for years. According to Foreign Policy’s (FP) coverage of the report:

 

The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022. The total, $2.2 billion, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.

But perhaps more shocking is the following admission that Pentagon suppliers have links with known criminal networks, also from FP:

 

According to the report, many of the weapons suppliers — primarily in Eastern Europe but also in the former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Ukraine — have both links to organized crime throughout Eastern Europe and spotty business records.

The sheer amount of material necessary for the Pentagon program — one ammunition factory announced it planned to hire 1,000 new employees in 2016 to help cope with the demand — has reportedly stretched suppliers to the limit, forcing the Defense Department to relax standards on the materials it’s willing to accept.

It is likely that the organized crime association is the reason why the Pentagon has sought to alter its records. In addition, the sheer volume of weaponry continuing to ship to the Syrian battlefield and other parts of the Middle East means inevitable proliferation among unsavory terror groups – a phenomenon which has already been exhaustively documented in

connection with the now reportedly closed CIA program to topple the Syrian government. The associations and alliances among some of the Arab former FSA groups the DoD continues to support in the north and east remains fluid, which means means US-supplied weapons will continue to pass among groups with no accountability for where they end up.

One of the authors of the OCCRP/BIRN report, Ivan Angelovski, told Foreign Policy that, “The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition.” The report is based on internal US government memos which reveal that weapons shipment destination locations have been scrubbed from original documents.

Is an EUC (End User Certificate) still an EUC if it doesn’t include an end user?

Balkan insight, which is hosting the original investigative report: “Seven US procurement documents were whitewashed to remove reference to ‘Syria’ after reporters contacted the Pentagon to enquire about whether the exporting countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia – had been informed of the destination.”

The fact that Foreign Policy, which is the foremost establishment national security publication in the world, would admit that the Pentagon’s Syria weapons procurement program is tied to East European organized crime is itself hugely significant. At this point the evidence is simply so overwhelming that even establishment sources like FP – which itself has generally been pro-interventionist on Syria – can’t deny it.

FP further reports that the Pentagon program “appears to be turbocharging a shadowy world of Eastern European arms dealers.” And adds further that, “the Pentagon is reportedly removing documentary evidence about just who will ultimately be using the weapons, potentially weakening one of the bulwarks of international protocols against illicit arms dealing.”

Map/Infographic produced as part of the OCCRP/BIRN report, itself confirmed by Foreign Policy magazine. Notice the map denotes that prior CIA weapons went directly to Idlib province (northwest, section in green) and the Golan border region (south). Both of these areas were and continue to be occupied by al-Qaeda (in Idlib, AQ’s Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham). In Idlib specifically, analysts have confirmed genocidal cleansing of religious minorities conducted by AQ “rebels” directly assisted by CIA weapons.

Late last month we featured the story of Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who was fired from her job after being interrogated by national intelligence officials for exposing the same Pentagon arms network which is the subject of the latest OCCRP/BIRN investigation. At the time, Al Jazeera was the only major international outlet which covered the story, which confirmed that Bulgarian agents interrogated Gaytandzhieva and “tried to find out her sources.” An anonymous source had leaked a large trove of internal government files connected to the arms trafficking to the East European-based Trud Newspaper journalist, which was the basis of her reporting. The newest investigation released Tuesday appears to include some of the same documents, also confirmed by Gayandzhieva.

Read the full OCCRP/BIRN investigation here.

Read Zero Hedge’s original coverage of the Pentagon’s Balkan arms pipeline here.

George Soros’s worst nightmare is about to become a reality in a key European country – France.

Francois Fillon, former French prime minister and member of Les Republicains political party, delivers his speech after partial results in the second round for the French center-right presidential primary election in Paris, France, November 27, 2016.

In an interview to Le Monde, the likeliest winner of the coming presidential election Francois Fillon called NATO’s promise in 2008 to take in Georgia and Ukraine as “irresponsible.” For Soros, who in his recent article saw Europe as a battleground for a Manichean fight between “democrats” and “dictators,” this must be a sure sign of “Europe falling under the influence of Vladimir Putin.”

In reality, Russia’s hopes for France are much more modest. They are nothing like the monsters which Mr. Soros creates in his imagination. Contrary to the fake generalizations in the mainstream press, Russia has been looking for understanding not so much in the so called far-right parties inside the EU countries as in the established “center” of European politics. Francois Fillon and his Gaullist party The Republicans represent exactly that – the moderate “right of center” in the French politics.

In the years that followed the worsening of relations with the West after the Kiev coup in 2014, Russia invited even the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the main architect of the Western intervention in Libya, to several forums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The aim was not “to dominate Europe,” but to find in France a minimally sensible politician, who would not see Russia as a “clear and present danger” (a preferred expression of French Russophobes). Finding such politicians in France would set a stage for a dialogue – an antonym to Mr. Soros’s “color revolutions,” touted by the Western media and despised by the people in the “revolutionized” countries, from Syria and Serbia to Georgia and Ukraine.

This aim of a dialogue could not be achieved through the cruel and duplicitous Sarkozy, who only advised Russia to remove its countersanctions against Western foodstuffs “in a gesture of goodwill.” (Many a previous gesture of this kind from Russia did not deter NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders or any other hostile moves from the US and the EU.) But Russia suddenly found a lot of sympathy among the less elitist French politicians, who represented the pragmatic interests of French business, and not the imperial designs of “spreading democracy” around the globe.

In April 2016, the French parliament, the National Assembly, recommended the lifting of sanctions against Russia.

And now Francois Fillon, an unexpected winner of the primaries in the French rightist party The Republicans, is voicing similar ideas about EU-Russian relations in general. To an unbiased observer, these truths are simple enough to be coming out of the mouth of babes, but for the mainstream media they are dangerous heresies.

“Has the West always been a reliable partner for Russia?” Fillon asked himself rhetorically during a recent interview to Le Monde daily. “Didn’t we deceive Russia on Libya, on Kosovo, on the economic partnership with the EU?”

Despite his previous characterizations of Russia as a “dangerous” country, Fillon obviously went beyond the limits of the European mainstream on Russia when he called NATO’s invitation for Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO in future “irresponsible.”

“Why did we need to deploy anti-missile defense right near the Russian border? We made a lot of mistakes,” Fillon said in that same interview.

Instead of countering Mr. Fillon by arguments, French politicians and mainstream media prefers “trolling” him by alleging he has “personal connections” to Russia. So far, the only revealed connections were Mr. Fillon’s two visits to Russia in the framework of the Valdai Discussion Club (an organization bringing together people with all kinds of views on Russia, including some very critical ones). Also, Fillon and Putin were prime ministers of France and Russia respectively in 2008-2010 and as such they exchanged a few friendly messages. So much for “personal connections.”

This, however, did not deter Alain Juppe, Fillon’s rival during the primaries of the French right, to “warn” his adversary against “excess of vodka during his meetings with Putin.”

This cheap insult, however, did not play well with voters, who preferred Fillon to Juppe, making the former prime minister the main candidate of the center-right Republicans.

The lesson also did not go down well with Manuel Valls, the former Socialist prime minister, who is going through the leftist primaries right now in the hope of challenging Fillon later this year during the presidential election. Valls said he would “defend France against both the United States of Trump and Putin’s Russia” if elected the president.

Will Russophobia play out for Mr. Valls? There is a strong doubt about this. Valls has already lost the first tour of Socialist primaries to the little known “red and green” candidate Benoit Hamon.

“People like Valls just don’t understand that there is a certain fatigue about business as usual in Europe, and Russophobia is a part of the business as usual there,” said Gevorg Mirzayan, a specialist on foreign relations at the Institute of US and Canada in Moscow.

Hopefully, the Russophobic part of the business as usual will come to an end. Russia wants only as much as that – and legitimately.

As Russia and America creep ever closer to outright conflict, now that the diplomatic facade of the proxy war in Syria falls away with every passing day, one voice if calling for the world to stop and reassess what it is doing. Former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Monday that the world has reached a “dangerous point” as tensions between Russia and the United States surge over the Syria conflict; a conflict which if escalated even fractionally further, could result in all out war between the two superpowers according to General Joseph Dunford.

Gorbachev blamed the current state of affairs between Russia and US on the “collapse of mutual trust” and urged the sides to resume dialogue and push towards demilitarization and complete nuclear disarmament.

“I think the world has reached a dangerous point. I don’t want to give any concrete prescriptions but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake.  Now we must return to the main priorities, such as nuclear disarmament, fighting terrorism and prevention of global environmental disasters. Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.” Gorbachev said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Relations between Moscow and Washington, already at their lowest since the Cold War over the Ukraine conflict, deteriorated sharply in recent days as the United States pulled the plug on Syria talks and accused Russia of hacking attacks.


Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (L) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan
begin their mini-summit talks in Reykjavik October 11, 1986.

As a result, last week Russia moved nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, near the hear of central Europe, an indication that a nuclear disarmament is the last thing on the mind of either Putin or Obama; quite the contrary a new nuclear arms race has begun. That, however, did not stop Gorbachev to preach the need for nuclear disarmament.

“Of course, at this moment it is difficult to talk about moving towards a nuclear-free world, we must honestly admit it. But we should not forget: as long as there are nuclear weapons there is the threat of their use. It could be an accident, a technical malfunction of someone’s evil will – a madman or a terrorist,” the former Soviet leader said. Or a perfectly sane, administration official intent on starting a new world war to benefit his or her financial backers.

In the interview, Gorbachev also reminded that in line with the nuclear non-proliferation agreement all of its signatories must hold talks on nuclear disarmament uniting the eventual full destruction of nuclear weapons.

“The nuclear-free world is not a utopia, but rather an imperative necessity. But we can achieve it only through demilitarization of politics and international relations.”

Gorbachev added that veterans of international politics, such as the “council of sages” chaired by former UN leader Kofi Annan, understood these problems and expressed hope that their voices would be heard by modern leaders. At the same time he emphasized that the main responsibility for global security lies on these modern leaders who would make the greatest mistake if they do not use the last chance to return international politics to a peaceful course.

The former Soviet leader’s interview was published on Monday to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the USSR-US summit in Reykjavik, which eventually allowed the nuclear arms race to slow down and greatly contributed to the end of the Cold War. Ironically, it comes out at a time when the nuclear arms race is back front and center.

Looking back to a more sensible time, Gorbachev reiterated that the Reykjavik summit was a major breakthrough. “First, we agreed on many issues and second, we managed to look over the horizon, see the perspective of a nuclear-free world,” he said.

“It was very appealing that in the course of our negotiations President Ronald Reagan sincerely spoke about the necessity to rid the world of the weapons of mass destruction. We shared a common position on this issue.”

Sadly, today that is no longer the case, and as we said over the weekend when we profiled the latest Russian nuclear escalation, the next move will be one by NATO and it will be proportional, as the west delivers even more nuclear weapons in close proximity to Russia in what will become a tit-for-tat “defection” from the game theoretical equilibrium, until the “accident, technical malfunction, madman or  terrorist” emerges and unleashes an unthinkable scenario.

It is a little hard to believe that the US Air Force’s attack on the Syrian Arab Army was a mere accident, Professor Stephen F. Cohen noted, warning the US party of war, which is adamantly opposed to any cooperation with Russia, is growing more and more influential in Washington.

The US party of war is “adamantly opposed” to any cooperation with Russia, Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, remarked commenting on the recent developments in Syria on The John Batchelor Show.

“[What’s important to be said is that] the attack on the Syrian forces [in Deir ez-Zor], which the US Air Force admitted that it did do by accident, it said, the attack on the humanitarian convoy headed for the destitute people of Aleppo and in that region (was attacked we don’t know about whom)… — these pieces are linked to the [Syrian ceasefire] agreement,” Professor Cohen emphasized.

The agreement specified that if for seven days the conditions agreed upon were met — and they included a ceasefire in various areas and humanitarian relief to Aleppo — that at the end of seven days something if not historic but exceedingly important would happen: the United States and Russia would join military arms and together wage air war against various terrorists in Syria. The importance of that cannot be overstated,” the American academic stressed.

He called attention to the fact that it would be the first real military cooperation between Moscow and Washington since a New Cold War began several years ago. Cohen underscored that it could lead to cooperation elsewhere, including the troubled Baltic region, where NATO is beefing up its military presence, and Ukraine.

However, the US scholar noted, there are forces in Washington which seek to disrupt the US-Russian détente.

Given the fact that US warplanes knew the Deir ez-Zor region very well and that the US Department of Defense (DOD) had openly expressed its skepticism regarding the US-Russian plan on Syria, it is “a little hard to believe” that the attack on the Syrian Arab Army was an “accident,” Professor Cohen suggested.

He quoted the New York Times editorial, which read that “at the Pentagon, officials would not even agree that if a cessation of violence in Syria held for seven days — the initial part of the deal — the Defense Department would put in place its part of the agreement on the eighth day.”

The editorial also referred to Carter, “who has deep reservations about the plan for American and Russian forces to jointly target terrorist groups.”

“In other words,” Cohen noted, “Pentagon officials refused to say whether they would obey President Obama.”

The US academic stressed that in a Constitutional democracy where the military is clearly subordinated to the civilian leadership that is extraordinary.

“We’ve come to a point in this craziness, in this New Cold War with Russia where DOD is openly saying it may or may not obey President Obama. If DOD will say that publicly you can imagine the opposition in Washington against the Syrian deal, [US Secretary of State John] Kerry brokered with Russian Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov,” Professor Cohen highlighted.

The professor remarked that the opposition comprises very influential figures from the Pentagon, the US State Department, both Democratic and Republican parties and the US’ mainstream media.

He recalled that such a situation is not new: during the previous 40-year Cold War the US party of war had repeatedly thrown a wrench in the Russo-American détente.

Cohen drew historical parallels between the Deir ez-Zor attack and the 1960 U-2 incident, when a US U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace. What is remarkable about this historical episode is that it occurred while Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight D. Eisenhower were seeking a détente. The CIA-led incursion ruined the possibility of the US-Soviet rapprochement, the US professor explained.

Today, while Russia opposes the US neocons’ idea of a US-led unipolar world order, the American party of war is determined to do whatever it takes to isolate Russia.

Russian analysts echo Professor Cohen: according to Stanislav Tarasov, Russian expert and head of the Middle East-Caucasus think tank the Deir ez-Zor attack as well as the assault on the UN humanitarian convoy could be the two links in one and the same chain.

Tarasov, the Pentagon could have deliberately tried to undermine the US-Russian deal on Syria.

For his part, Yevgeny Satanovsky, head of the Moscow-based Middle East Institute, expressed doubts regarding the fact that the US-led coalition’s airstrike was just an accident. The expert stressed that the attack is likely a reflection of the ongoing struggle between the US military and diplomatic establishments and an attempt by the Pentagon to “show the State Department who’s boss.”

RIA Novosti political analyst Alexander Khrolenko suggested that some forces are obviously trying to throw the US-Russian Geneva initiative into question and swing the balance in their own favor. He referred to the fact that the US’ Middle Eastern partners have recently intensified their activity in the region.

“It seems that a new division of spheres of influence is on the cards, and a diplomatic solution [to the Syrian crisis] is becoming more and more unlikely,” Khrolenko assumed.

The war in Syria is significant in two ways. First, the outcome can reshape the Arab Middle East. Second, and perhaps more important, Syria is not simply about Syrians. The US, Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and French forces are engaged there along with the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaida, and secular Arabs. The Saudis and the rest of the Arab monarchies also exert political and economic influence on Syria.

I have written in the past about how the growing crises in Eurasia are increasingly interacting. Syria is the place where that interaction is the greatest and most violent.

Prior to World War II, there was a civil war in Spain. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy sent troops. The Soviet Union did as well. In addition, leftists from around the world flocked there to fight. The French and British refused to get involved, trying not to be drawn in. The Spanish Civil War was said to be a rehearsal for World War II. The major players of the European war were there—though some weren’t. New weapons were tried out. The civil war ended in April 1939, five months before Germany invaded Poland, which began World War II.

Syria is drawing in major global and regional powers. When, for example, the US and Russia are engaged in a country – with very different goals and supporting hostile factions – it is certainly not something to dismiss out of hand. On the contrary, Syria matters a great deal. If nothing else, it has become a test of the strength of powers with interests far beyond Syria.

The Origins of the Syrian Conflict

There is a class of conflicts whose importance to us diminishes over time. These conflicts involve intense slaughter and suffering and generate endless conferences, meetings, and wringing of hands by global statesman. But these wars seem never-ending. Their origins are lost in the mists of time, the situations on the battlefield are hard to grasp, and they appear to have little consequence to the rest of the world. The relief workers do a heroic job and try to shame us into caring and giving, but in the end, each conflict seems to be just another war in a faraway place having little to do with our own lives.

But Syria is far more than that.

The current regime was founded by Hafez al-Assad, an air force general, in a military coup. He was an Alawite, part of the Shiite sect of Islam. He was also a secularist. Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian military officer, had staged a coup in Egypt in 1952 and wanted to create a state based on three principles: secularism, socialism, and Pan-Arabism. His vision was the creation not of a caliphate, but of a secular, socialist, unified Arab world, based on military rule. Many regimes were patterned on this, including Assad’s regime in Syria.

But ideology aside, Assad represented the Alawite faction, and what he created was a state built around his faction. Other factions were excluded, oppressed, and not infrequently, killed. However, Alawites are only around 12% of the Syrian population, which was why he relied heavily on the minorities (Christians, mainstream Shiites, Ismailis, Kurds, and Druze) that together constitute 40% of the population. More important, he also relied on many Sunnis. Even today, the regime is alive because a lot of Sunnis have not rebelled against the state. Nevertheless, Assad kept Syria from fragmenting by suppressing any challenge to him. After he died, his son, Bashar al-Assad, kept running the family business.

The Arab Spring in 2011 generated a challenge to his regime. The problem was that the opposition was deeply split. They spent as much time fighting each other as they spent fighting Assad. Democracy had little to do with it. The Alawite-Sunni split had a great deal to do with it. But the Assad regime had a lot of support.

One of the misunderstandings of US foreign policy has been that tyrants rule only through the threat of violence. That is true, but in order to have a credible threat of violence, you have to have people who are prepared to carry that violence out. And they need to be loyal to you, or they may turn the violence against you. Tyrants do not live alone in isolated palaces. If they did, they wouldn’t live very long.

The Alawites had done extremely well under the Assads. They dominated the military, trade, smuggling, and internal business. They were hated by many Sunnis, especially the more religiously inclined. The Alawites knew that if Assad fell, their position would collapse, and they would become the target. They, therefore, had to resist the uprising, and since they controlled the military, they believed they would not be defeated. Assad was not going to be overthrown by a wildly fragmented and poorly armed and trained opposition.

Enter the Americans

The Assads had been a problem for the United States in many ways. They sent weapons and supplies into Iraq during the US occupation from 2003 to 2011. They helped destabilize Lebanon. They fought multiple wars with Israel. And above all, they were closely aligned with the Iranians, fellow Shiites. Hezbollah in Lebanon, also an ally of Iran and Syria, represented a terrorist threat for the US (even in 2011 when the Sunnis were the main enemy). When the Syrian war began, the US saw a chance to crack Assad, dramatically reduce Iranian influence in the region, and break Hezbollah.

The problem was that the US didn’t want to get directly involved in the war, at least not excessively. Since most Sunni groups were jihadist, the US had to find groups that were anti-jihadist, anti-Iranian, and anti-Assad… and that were motivated to fight. The US was looking for secularists not aligned with Assad. It was, to say the least, difficult to find such a group. It was also hard to be certain that they would stay that kind of group, and that they wouldn’t sell the weapons they were given. Still, the US felt it had enough to gain to keep trying.

At this point, IS emerged, seizing control of parts of Iraq and Syria. This put the US in a fix. If it brought Assad down, IS might extend its power. If it attacked IS, it would give Assad breathing room and alienate some of the opposition (some of which wanted an all-out attack on Assad while others didn’t want IS hindered). The US found itself “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” as the song about the Vietnam War went, and it had yet to create an effective opposition to Assad anyway.

More Global Powers Get Involved

Then, the Russians became involved militarily. Russian intelligence had been close to the Assads since they took over in Syria. Russia did not want him to fall. But it had far greater problems than Assad. First, it suffered a strategic setback in a crucial buffer state, Ukraine, when a pro-Russian government was replaced by a pro-Western one. Attempts to foment an uprising in the east failed, and all Russia could claim was control over Crimea, where by treaty it had already based major force.

Second, the collapse of oil prices had a massive impact on the economy that was going to pyramid. At the very least, President Vladimir Putin needed to demonstrate that, barring Ukraine, Russia was a major power.

The military importance of his decision to deploy a relatively small number of aircraft and special forces in Syria was massively inflated by the Russians, who wanted to appear stronger than they were, and by the Americans, who wanted to make Russia out as an aggressor. Both approaches helped cement Russia’s role. Then, having deployed aircraft and troops, Russia confronted the same problem as the Americans. The Russians could not reshape the Syrian landscape, especially with US resistance.

The US, Russia, and Iran were all active in Syria and unable to end the conflict. That left the Turks. The Turks hated the Assad regime, and when the Russians first intervened, the Turks shot down a Russian plane, causing a serious confrontation. Then, there was an attempted coup in Turkey, and the Turks turned against the Americans (who they partly blamed for the failed coup) and got closer to the Russians. Realizing that the Russians were inflexible on Assad, the Turks shifted back toward the Americans and were prepared to fight IS, but only if the US understood that the Turks had a simultaneous war underway with the Kurds.

Syria did not simply draw players in. It sent huge numbers of migrants to Europe as well. This triggered a huge crisis in the European Union, dividing countries that wanted to block migration from those that would encourage it. This compounded already existing tensions in Europe over the economy. It is reasonable to say that Syrian migrants shaped the Brexit vote, encouraged the rise of radical nationalist groups throughout Europe, and redefined the underlying issues.

The Paris terrorist attacks had another effect. The French sent an aircraft carrier to carry out airstrikes in Syria in cooperation with the United States. The Syrian migrants and the inability of European forces to block them, or to take effective unilateral action against IS after the attacks on Paris and other cities, generated not only greater military involvement in Syria, but long-term planning to manage the fallout from the conflict.

Syria as a Testing Ground

Syria is a battleground in which the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Iran are increasingly involved. Watching barely on the sidelines are the Israelis and the Saudis, while Lebanon is constantly uncertain. Iraq is heavily influenced by what is happening in Syria, while the Kurds, facing IS in Iraq, are now facing Turkish forces in Turkey and Syria. And the Europeans are coping with a wave of terrorism and contemplating rearmament. All of this is driven by Syria, a country that seems gridlocked in a permanent and insoluble war. But it is a country that has brought together friends, enemies, and contenders for power in a small place. It reminds me of nothing as much as Spain in the 1930s.

For the first time since the 1940s, all of Eurasia is unstable. Syria is not the pivot of this instability, but it is the showcase. Most major powers are there or nearby, except the Chinese.

My eyes glaze over when I hear about Syria, yet they shouldn’t. I have to force myself to see the increasing importance of this test war.