As I wrote recently, in an article intended for publication on the Australian blog “Pearls and Irritations, but finally published by 21st Century Wire, the apparent retreat from Syria by Western powers has seen a resurgence in abusive criticism of the “victorious” Assad government – as well as of its allies Russia and Iran.
Far from admitting to any fault, or guilt for their seven year-long conspiracy to replace the Syrian government with a Western-friendly puppet regardless of the democratic will of Syrians, these governments, their NGOs and media partners are now entrenching their false narrative of a noble and just effort that failed to remove a brutal tyrant.
Even better informed commentators who generally oppose the US’ hegemonic attitude and duplicity, and may recognise its shared responsibility for other disastrous conflicts – in Libya or Yemen or Iraq – are still evidently in a state of delusion over the war on Syria, and the US coalition’s malevolent role in it. The immediate reason for my article was the publication on “P&I” by one such respected commentator, Professor Ramesh Thakur, of an article considering how the Syrian war could have been shortened and with less loss of life – had Western powers behaved differently.
The whole premise of his article was wrong – that so much death and destruction had been for nothing because Assad remained in power; only Libyan style mayhem would have been a worse outcome. My concern, and desire to counter Thakur’s arguments, was because an alternative viewpoint – such as is accepted by all those on Syria’s side of the divide – is completely absent from Australian media, whether mainstream or alternative.
This is despite the events of the last few months in Syria, that have seen the true nature of the “rebels” and the true extent of their foreign support network exposed, in both alternative media and in mainstream Russian and allied media networks. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been outspoken and explicit on the criminality and culprits in these networks, albeit to a deaf target audience.
The fabrication of the “Douma Chemical Weapon attack” and the subsequent US/UK/French bombing – clearly a war crime – was perhaps the last straw for Russia’s patience in dealing with Syria’s opponents, but it must also be seen against a background and history of US coalition crimes against Syria and the incredible catalogue of lies and false pretences that supported their covert operations.
One of the most devious and profoundly criminal of these crimes was one in which Australian forces happened to be directly involved – the joint US-Australian airforce attack on a vital Syrian Army outpost in Deir al Zour of September 2016. This happened at the height of the West’s campaign to save the Al Qaeda-linked terrorists occupying East Aleppo, and while the US constantly stalled Russia’s efforts to create humanitarian corridors so civilians could escape the siege.
The story did nevertheless make the news in Australia, though government officials naturally denied any intention to target the Syrian Army. But the claims of the US and Australian forces who launched this assault that they mistook Syrian soldiers for “illegal combatants” rang hollow, as the attack continued for over an hour despite urgent protests from Russia, killing at least 80 soldiers and completely destroying their outpost. That this facilitated the immediate takeover of the hilltop post by ISIS militants, who appeared to have been waiting and ready for the US-coalition “assistance” was never mentioned by the compulsively “patriotic” Australian media. (It should be noted however that Australian pilots and support staff may well have been innocent of the true intent of their commanders; it was reported that some questioned intelligence on the target but were ignored)
A special internal investigation by the US was a complete whitewash as predicted; the US could hardly acknowledge it intentionally targeted the SAA as part of its effort to take control of land east of the Euphrates. Had the enquiry interviewed witnesses and victims of the attack, as did Robert Fisk at the time, and Australia’s Professor Tim Anderson more recently, the US-Australian case would have been hard to sustain. Had Australian government ministers been subject to more aggressive interviewing, and reasonable suspicion they were not being honest, the question of Australia’s real role in Syria might have been asked, in Parliament and by State media.
Only weeks after that attack the US mal-intent became transparently clear when it bombed bridges over the Euphrates in Deir al Zour. This barely rated a mention in Western media, but its effect on Syrians’ thinking and on reporting in Syrian and Russian media was dramatic. I had this confirmed in May, while visiting the city of Homs and seeing its steady recovery from years under siege. Our guide there was a strong and proud woman who like so many in Syria had lost a son in the war – killed by “rebels” while he was serving in Deir al Zour. Her other two sons then joined their father in the Syrian army, committing all in the fight to save their fellow citizens from this monstrous foe.
For Hayat herself, the loss and grief had become a source of strength in her community’s battle against the violent jihadists, where they occupied part of the city only a hundred metres from her home. Following their final expulsion two years ago her job is now to educate, or re-educate, foreign visitors to Homs.
Perhaps not many of them know the story of Deir al Zour and significance of the bombing of its bridge over the Euphrates, but as one who did I couldn’t resist her gift – of a glass block with an etching of the famous bridge – or fail to feel honoured by it. She gave me too the obligation to share this story of US strategic military bastardry, a key event in Syria’s history. (the US also bombed two bridges across the Euphrates near Raqqa, before launching its campaign to take the city under its “SDF” control and relocate IS forces)
The construction by Russian engineers of a sectional temporary bridge a year after its bombing to bring aid and assistance to the besieged population of Deir al Zour, following months driving IS forces back across the desert, saw a renewed push by US and NATO forces to keep control of the Eastern Syrian Oil and Gas fields in the hands of their terrorist allies, in violation of every law of civil and military conduct. (the “liberation” of Raqqa was concluded at the same time.)
Tim Anderson visited Deir Al Zour last October, and wrote a detailed account following interviews with witnesses and victims of the US and IS assaults and occupation of the city.
Anderson’s methodical and structured work sadly counts for nothing in Australian media discourse; dismissed as an “Assad-lover” and “conspiracy-theorist”, his solid evidence can be safely ignored. To any fair minded and unprejudiced person however, what he presents is clear-cut; wittingly or unwittingly the Australian government has been assisting and cooperating with terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and Da’esh/IS, as a result of its partnership with the US and other coalition allies.
While Australia announced a formal withdrawal of its fighter jets from Syria in December – though not its air-tanker or surveillance planes, its continuing involvement and support for anti-Syrian forces seems likely. The government’s rhetoric against the Syrian government and its Russian ally is unchanged, and support for Syria’s local enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as it NATO partners is as strong as ever.
Neither is the position and intention of US forces occupying NE Syria at all clear. Far from pulling back, as they have done in the South West, the spectre of ISIS is being conjured up yet again as a pretext for them to remain, with the numbers of IS fighters still on the loose suddenly boosted. The source of these claims is none other than the DIA – the same organisation that notoriously predicted and supported the “declaration of the caliphate” in 2012.
The last word on this should go to President Putin and his colleagues, who continue to try to rebuild bridges while their opponents work so hard to destroy them. As the now hopelessly compromised UN – which has worked so hard for the Syrian “Opposition” – ramps up unfounded fears of yet another humanitarian crisis in the last terrorist-infested Syrian province of Idlib, Russia has forged on with its plans to involve Europe in cooperative work in Syria. In advance of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Germany, via Austria, Russia brought a large group of foreign journalists to Aleppo to see how much has been achieved there since its liberation.
Call it a “charm offensive” – or “bridge-building” – or just “a wake-up call” for those in the West who may be reconsidering their views, Russia’s positive message contrasts sharply with the combative talk from their NATO opponents, of threats and destructive sanctions.
As I write this the leadership of Australia’s conservative governing coalition is about to change, and in what seems likely to be a hard-right direction. Where foreign affairs is concerned, one can say two things about this dramatic domestic development.
First, that the question of foreign policy has played no part whatsoever in this change, and at this point has not rated a single mention, even on critical questions like our relationship with Trump’s America. And second, that whoever leads the government and country makes little difference – they all share the same allegiances to our allies and delusions about our opponents.
And it’s no cause for complacency or resignation, or even the reassurance that Australia is a small player in world affairs. If our involvement in some of the worst crimes committed against Syria isn’t sufficient evidence, our role in the “Five Eyes” security alliance, due to meet next week in Brisbane reveals that we “punch above our weight”, – and bomb bridges like the best of them.