Is US really backing Syrian rebels?
"Left" media in the US continue to portray a massive Washington program of support for the Syrian rebels to destabilize the regime of Bashar Assad—in spite of the utter baselessness of this thesis. We recently had to call out the ironically-named Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) for spreading such empty dogmatism in a piece entitled "Down the Memory Hole: NYT Erases CIA's Efforts to Overthrow Syria's Government." Despite the sketchy media accounts it cites of supposed CIA expenditures on Syrian rebels, we have repeatedly documented how the US is actually tilting to Assad in Syria's war. What limited aid is being made available is explicitly for use against ISIS—not Assad. We noted last year reports that the US is actually constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS. Last week another such report ran on Lebanon's Now Media. Once again, a rebel commander from the FSA's Southern Front is quoted asserting that his forces were ordered by the US Military Operations Center in Jordan not to launch an offensive to retake the town of Sheikh Maskin—which had fallen to the regime when the MOC earlier this year ordered the Southern Front to concentrate on an offensive against ISIS rather than defending its territory. So the price of such arms that the US does provide the rebels is ceding territory to the regime. Let us know how you want your crow prepared, FAIR.
It's especially perverse that FAIR's headline invoked Orwell in defense of such distortions. Now a piece debunking these distortiions thankfully appears under the title "Downing warplanes, Orwell and 'US-backed' rebels" on the blog of Michael Karadjis. He writes:
On August 1, Syrian rebels shot down a Russian armoured assault helicopter in Idlib which was returning from neighbouring Aleppo, where Russian and Syrian regime aircraft have been waging a merciless aerial massacre.
The ongoing slaughter in Aleppo, Idlib, Daraya and elsewhere highlights the rebels' dire need for anti-aircraft weaponry. However, the United States has vigorously enforced an embargo against the rebels receiving these crucial weapons throughout the war.
While rebel downings of air-war vehicles have thus been few and far between, this latest hit followed the downing of some half a dozen warplanes or helicopters around Damascus in June and July.
A handful of Russian-made SA-8 anti-aircraft missiles, which were used in these hits, were captured by the rebels from the regime back in 2012... Likewise, most weaponry in the hands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been gained by capture or made in back-yards. As one (more honestly titled) article put it: "Syria's 'Western-Backed' Rebels? Not in Weapons."
The routine use of the adjective "US-backed" for non-jihadist rebels—a grossly Orwellian piece of media-speak—greatly obfuscates the real US connection to the indigenous mass uprising against the Assad dictatorship.
By mid-2012, a flow of weapons from former Libyan rebels began to reach Syrian rebels via Turkey. Later that year the US began its first major intervention in Syria, positioning CIA agents in Turkey to restrict the quality, quantity and destination of these arms.
While warplanes and helicopters had replaced tanks as the main form of regime slaughter by mid-2012, this US embargo blocked not only anti-aircraft but also anti-tank weaponry. Thus only small arms and ammunition were allowed, in the face of a massively armed regime continually supplied by Russia and Iran.
Such weapons were barely enough for survival, but this was no oversight; despite calling on Assad to "step down," the US government made clear that the aim was precisely to bolster the regime as a whole. Therefore, these arms were not even remotely intended to be of the quantity or quality necessary to aid a rebel victory, but more to the point, they were not even aimed at enhancing tactical rebel victories on the ground. In fact, not even creating a permanent "balance" with the regime, so that "no-one wins", was the aim, despite this being a common claim; even an objective as limited as that would have required a more consistent amount of better weaponry, given what the regime possesses.
No, allowing for the bare survival of the rebels was the US (and western) aim: western policy-makers knew if the rebels were totally crushed, this would bolster Sunni jihadist forces as the only opposition to which the dispossessed Sunni majority could gravitate; whereas if they survived but were weakened, the moderate opposition leaderships could hopefully be pressured into accepting a role within a "reformed" regime, which would then wage war on the jihadists—and anyone else still resisting, who would be labelled "terrorists"...
Thus while the US itself restricted its own support to non-lethal aid, the only arms it would allow regional states to send the rebels were those of the quality they already had. This could allow the US to attempt to contain and co-opt the uprising, while leading to no "danger" of strengthening them.
This strikes us as a very plausible reading of US motives. While some "lethal" US aid has clearly reached the rebels, the amount has been grossly overstated by those invested in the theory of a "regime change" conspiracy. We have questioned how much CIA-greased weaponry has actually reached the FSA. The more above-board Pentagon program was an absymal failure, and has collapsed completely. More importantly, the question is dodged of what is the intended purpose of the military aid. Note that the latest Arab-led militia that Washington has prompted formation of to receive US aid, the New Syrian Army (NSA), was explicitly created to fight ISIS—not the Assad regime.
We have cited endless quotes from such exponents of DC officialdom and wonkdom as John Kerry, John Brennan, Ryan Crocker, Michael Hayden and Leslie Gelb (as well as various Israeli officials) stating clearly that their goal is not to destabilize Assad, but to prop him up against the threat of jihad and "instability." Karadjis' piece now brings to light yet another. Reuters on July 30, 2012 quoted then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta paying requisite lip service to the official position that Assad has to "leave"—but making clear that the basic regime apparatus is to remain in place. "I think it's important when Assad leaves, and he will leave, to try to preserve stability in that country. The best way to preserve that kind of stability is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government. That's the key."
Right, the same military that has been committing mass murder on its own people for the past five years. Thanks a lot, Leon.