The Syrian Army in Idlib

24 Feb
this post also features on offguardian

This video may cause distress. Taken by their Isis captors in May 2016, it shows the humiliation of two Syrian soldiers prior to their roadside execution. Now read on …


Michael Hudson, described by former Reagan appointee Paul Craig Roberts as the greatest living economist, is clear on the problem US imperialism has faced since Vietnam. Mobilising large conscript armies to kill for Wall Street in foreign lands is no longer politically feasible.

That reality, says Professor Hudson, obliges the Pentagon to pursue its never ending wars on the global south in two interlinked ways. One is the use of state of the art death technologies which not only avoid the need for boots on the ground – a surefire vote loser – but have the considerable side benefit of enriching the military-industrial complex’s shareholders.

But since wars can seldom if ever be won entirely from the air, a second strategy is called for. I refer to the use of proxy forces. In the middle east and (less well known) Muslim areas of China and Russia, these absolutely include armed jihadists.

Those whose understanding of US led wars in the region is shaped entirely by corporate media may well find the counterintuitive, Orwellian nature of Hudson’s second observation too much to take in. That does not make it untrue, however. Likewise his depiction of Isis, Al Qaeda et al as “America’s foreign legion”.

Cue for another commentator often quoted on this site. Writing yesterday on his blog, Stephen Gowans had this to say:

We should applaud the Syrian military’s actions in Idlib, not deplore them

Imagine journalists deploring the Allies’ liberation of Europe because the project created refugees, and you’ll understand US news media’s reaction to the prospect of the Syrian military liberating Idlib from a branch of Al Qaeda. Implicit in the condemnation is support for the status quo, since any realistic attempt to end an occupation will trigger a flight of civilians from a war zone. What is in fact support for continued occupation by reactionaries, and their imposition of a terrorist mini-state on three million Syrians, is slyly presented by the US news media as concern for the welfare of Syrian civilians.

On February 20, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on what it said could be the “biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century,” namely, the advance of the Syrian military into Idlib, “backed by Russian airstrikes and pro-Iranian militias” which has “forced the flight of some 900,000 people” as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad vows “to retake every inch of Syria.”

To illustrate the so-called impending horror, Journal reporter Raja Abdulrahim follows “Amro Akoush and his family” as they flee “their home in northwest Syria with no time to pack a bag and no vehicle to escape the machine-gun fire and falling bombs.”

“I feel like this is the end, the army will advance and kill us all and that will be the end of the story,” Abdulrahim quotes Akoush as saying. “We no longer have hope for anything other than a quick death, that’s it. That’s all we ask for.”

In Abdulrahim’s narrative, Assad is a tyrant setting in motion a humanitarian catastrophe to satisfy his urge (are we to construe it as greed?) to “retake” every inch of his country (not recover or liberate it.) Assad’s foil, his nemesis in this tale, is Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presented as the personification of the calvary [sic] rushing to the aid of hapless Syrian civilians, by dispatching tanks across the Turk-Syrian border.

Erdogan, Abdulrahim writes, “has threatened to launch a full attack on Syrian government forces if Mr. Assad doesn’t halt the military offensive. Turkey has sent more than 10,000 troops and more than 2,000 pieces of artillery, tanks and armored vehicles into Idlib.”

It all seems fairly simple: Assad is a brute who has launched a military offensive “to defeat the remnants” of Syria’s “armed opposition”, sparking a humanitarian catastrophe in embryo, while Erdogan, our hero, acts to stay the tyrant’s hand.

It’s a good story, but wrong. The “armed opposition” is not a group of plucky liberal democrats fighting for freedom, but Al Qaeda; Turkey is not the calvary [sic] but a foreign aggressor with designs on Syria that has long backed Al Qaeda as its proxy in Idlib; and Erdogan’s goal isn’t to rescue Syrians from a tyrant, but to impose a Turkish tyranny by proxy on Idlib. All of this has been reported previously in the US news media, including in Abdulrahim’s own Wall Street Journal, but has since been lost down to the memory hole. Additionally, other realities have been minimized, including the continued Al Qaeda attacks on the Syrian military and Syrian civilians.

Read the full piece here.

4 Replies to “The Syrian Army in Idlib

  1. Thank you for digging deep into this complex issue and making me take a fresh intake of air as I try and get my head around what you are saying.

    • Maybe I’m not saying it very well, Jeni. It shouldn’t be complicated. That said, even simple messages, when they run counter to dominant narratives, can seem mystifying.

  2. This is an excellent summary and link Phil and particularly pertinent in England where we seem to have lost any focus on foreign affairs / foreign policy.

    • Thanks Bryan. If I may return the compliment, I very much enjoyed your blog post on Brexit and the Labour defeat. I’d intended to comment at the time. Now it seems rather late.

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