A recent CNN article entitled ‘Putin’s playbook in Syria draws on Ukraine and loathing for revolution’ has its readership continuing to ponder the ‘what is Putin REALLY up to’ group think led by the neo-conservative liberal interventionists in Washington and followed unquestioningly in allied Western governments such as those of Australia and the UK.
There is a stark irony in that those elements of right-wing conservative Western governments and think tanks criticize what they see as an unknown Russian ‘playbook’ while fostering their own march to endless confrontation.
It also belies the expectation in Washington, London and Canberra that there is always an endgame planned for any military or political intervention, something that has become the rule for regime change policies backed by those same governments.
The United States’ neoconservative foreign policy and similarly aligned policy principles of its Middle East coalition partners often draw heavily from ideals laid down in think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the infamous Project for New American Century (dissolved in 2006 and re-formed as the Foreign Policy Initiative) which clearly lay out conservative goals and an endgame for US foreign policy; ie using the ideals of national interests/national security as a foundation for swaying public and therefore political opinion in favor any foreign interference it sees as necessary to maintaining the US as the world’s leading superpower.
In an interview with Foreign Policy In Focus, Robert Kagan – co-founder of both the PNAC and FPI – iterated the institute’s position toward Iran, saying, “It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.”1
Another ‘what are they up to’ article appearing in the Australian Murdoch press now has Russia ‘striking fear intothe heart of the West’ with new military technologies. The hypocrisy of this alarmist hype is stark when one considers the billions of dollars spent by the US alone ($620 billion in 2014)2 in developing new weapons for use in current and future conflicts. The very concept of soft power as employed by the West necessitates the use of fear of dominant military power to leverage geopolitical goals.
In their alarmist, McCarthyist clamor, the mainstream press chooses to focus on the increasing presence of Russian armed forces in the Middle East and elsewhere and conveniently ignore the facts of endless Western military imperialism. For example, while Russia has 14 military bases in foreign territories, the main sources of information on American military installations (NATO Watch Committee, the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases) reveal that the US operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases Worldwide.3
If any military operations truly ‘strike fear’ into any populace, one would have to look no further than the information on US Predator covert drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia during Barack Obama’s presidency now stands at 491.
In a special edition of the BBC’s Newshour Extra, recorded at the annual conference of the governing UK Conservative Party, a panel discusses appropriate responses to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. The question posed was whether EU and US sanctions, imposed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, be re-assessed or perhaps used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over joint military action in Syria.
British Defence Minister Liam Fox summed up the prevailing Western group think on Syria in claiming that Putin’s move to support Assad in Syria is a deliberate distraction from the Ukraine issue while strangely offering that this was why the Ukraine issue has “disappeared from our media”.4
Fox continued to also claim that Russian politicians openly admitted to recognizing that they face the same international pressures as the West but hold on to power by making NATO the existential threat to the Russian people.
Summing up Fox’s statements in the program highlights some key ideological points held by neo-conservatives in the West and aligns perfectly with the propaganda we see in the conservative mainstream press:
• Assad and Putin are the ‘bad guys’
• ISIS wouldn’t be a problem the West had just gotten rid of Assad
• Assad needs to be deposed for allegedly using chemical weapons
• Russia would think twice about helping in Syria if we had punished it for perceived transgressions in Ukraine
• the west needs to ‘draw the lines’ and then punish anyone who crosses them
• Russia has ignored the UN and acted unilaterally by crossing sovereign borders
Incredibly, Fox’s view seems to be that if Western allies – presumably through NATO – had have ‘punished’ Putin for transgressing national sovereignty in Ukarine then Russia would now be less inclined to support its Syrian ally on the ground. This type of rhetoric only serves to further polarize the alliances that are now facing off in Syria.
Not only do these opinions show an ignorance of even recent history but also reflects the inherent chauvinism of the belief that the West is aligned with what is morally “good” and those nations seen to be in opposition as “bad”. In the now somewhat chilling words of former US President George W. Bush, “…our country is strong, we go forward to defend freedom, and all that is good and just in our world.”5
A CNN op-ed that Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading voice on national security issues, wrote on Oct. 13, 2015, was particularly chilling. It called on Obama to inflict severe pain on Russia and Putin regardless of the consequences:
“There is an opportunity here … to impose significant costs on an adversary that wants to undercut the United States everywhere. It is an opportunity to weaken an anti-American ruler who will always view us as an enemy. … We cannot shy away from confronting Russia in Syria, as Putin expects the administration will do. His intervention has raised the costs and risks of greater U.S. involvement in Syria, but it has not negated the steps we need to take. Indeed, it has made them more imperative.
“We must act now to defend civilian populations and our opposition partners in Syria. As Gen. David Petraeus and others have advocated, we must establish enclaves in Syria where civilians and the moderate opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and ISIS can find greater security. These enclaves must be protected with greater American and coalition airpower and likely foreign troops on the ground. We should not rule out that U.S. forces could play a limited role in this ground contingent. If al-Assad continues to barrel bomb civilians in Syria, we should destroy his air force’s ability to operate.
“We must back up our policy in ways that check Putin’s ambitions and shape his behavior. If Russia attacks our opposition partners, we must impose greater costs on Russia’s interests — for example, by striking significant Syrian leadership or military targets. But we should not confine our response to Syria. We must increase pressure on Russia elsewhere. We should provide defensive weapons and related assistance to Ukrainian forces so they can take a greater toll on Russian forces. … And if Putin continues to strike Syrian civilians and our opposition partners, we should ramp up targeted sanctions on Russia. Low energy prices are battering Russia’s economy and currency. We should increase that pain.”6
As Obama precariously admits he ‘failed’ in Syria – which echoes Liam Fox’s ‘we missed our chance’ rhetoric and underscores the notion that even more military intervention in the Middle East was actually necessary – are the nations of the Western Allies prepared to reconsider the increasingly dubious justifications for foreign intervention and regime change?
1. Goulka, Jeremiah (5 November 2012). “The Dogs of War Are Barking”. Regions: Middle East & North Africa. Foreign Policy In Focus (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies). ISSN 1524-1939.
2. 2015 United States federal budget https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_States_federal_budget
3. The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564
4. BBC World Service – Newshour Extra, ‘Doing Business with Mr Putin’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0343hjp
5. George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation on September 11, 2001 https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_W._Bush