(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — When the U.S. formally intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2014 with an aerial campaign targeting ISIS (most of the time), many Syrian opposition groups claimed the U.S. was essentially propping up the Assad government by going after ISIS, instead. The mainstream media also parroted this claim, almost giving the impression that the Obama administration had completely abandoned its desire to see Assad unseated from power. There are even some commentators who have claimed U.S. intervention in Syria is “limited” and that regime change is not the ultimate goal because the U.S. would prefer to leave Assad in power rather than rely on jihadist elements to overthrow him (and would potentially even work with Assad, as well).
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However, the truth regarding America’s unwillingness to topple Assad through direct means is far more sinister.
First, it should be noted that this author is not advocating regime change in Syria. Drawing on the lessons from Iraq and Libya, to name just two examples, it is abundantly clear that American-led regime change operations are wholly disastrous. If we combine these factors with the mounting evidence that hundreds of thousands of Syrians are returning to their homes in areas liberated by the Syrian government, it doesn’t take a geopolitical analyst to understand that the U.S. is (yet again) on the wrong side of history.
The reason Washington has not toppled Assad yet is not that they don’t want to — and certainly not because they believe ISIS is a worse prospect than the Assad government. Leaked audio of former Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the U.S. was watching ISIS grow and hoped the resulting added pressure would bring the Syrian government to the negotiating table. A secret U.S. intelligence report warned that the anti-Assad powers knew an ISIS-style caliphate was forming as far back as 2012.
No — the reason the U.S. has not toppled Assad is that the U.S. has a monumental history of attacking predominantly weak and isolated countries that do not possess any significant allies. Though the U.S. has the most powerful military and weaponry in the world, the evidence shows that a country like Syria is deemed far too strong of a nation for Washington to take out by itself.
In 1985, a number of terror attacks that targeted civilians in Rome and Vienna were pinned almost exclusively on Libya even when the available intelligence directly implicated Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, instead. At the time, Syria was strengthening its relations with Iran and already had a quasi-relationship with Russia. In order to appear strong and resilient without being dragged too far into a conflict against a confident Arab nation that possessed some notable allies, it decided to bomb Libya instead. It speaks volumes that the U.S. chose not to go for the Assad family there and then even though they had evidence implicating the government in terrorist activity.
In 2011, the same thing happened again, except more extensively. The U.S. painted Gaddafi as a mass-murdering threat to global security, exaggerated Gaddafi’s list of crimes, and spearheaded a NATO campaign to completely decimate the country and assassinate its leader. Gaddafi’s demise was more or less celebrated across the entire globe.
Since World War II, the U.S. has also launched bombing campaigns in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Yugoslavia, Panama, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen (to name a few). It has directly enabled Israel to consistently bombard a relatively defenseless civilian population trapped in what is widely regarded as an open air prison and enabled Saudi Arabia to do something similarly worse in Yemen.
Out of that list, only two of those countries were backed heavily by foreign powers (which we will turn to in a moment). Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, for example, saw the U.S. actively bombing impoverished populations. In many of the other examples, the relevant governments were already client states of the United States and had approved of America’s decision to bomb their territory, meaning those governments were never directly on the receiving end of the strikes. The leaderships that were bombed directly, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, had arguably weaker relationships with the international community than Libya did. Despite years of accusations, neither Iraq nor Libya had any significant weapons of mass destruction, which is another reason why the U.S. was more than happy to invade.
Now we turn to the countries that do possess meaningful friendships. China backed North Korea during the Korean War in the early 1950s, but that was before China began acquiring the nuclear capabilities it has today. Russia has been backing Syria so heavily that the Russian government basically forced the U.S. to establish a communications line with the Russian military and also ensured that American warplanes could only fly in certain areas of the country. John Kerry conceded in the aforementioned leaked audio that Russia is only allowing the U.S. to fly in Syrian airspace as long as it targets ISIS, and Special Operations Command chief Army General Raymond Thomas stated in July of this year that Russia is days away from kicking the U.S. out of Syria.
While the U.S. has bombed the Syrian government directly in multiple instances, the U.S. arguably did so unwillingly. The fact that Syrian government troops were advancing towards American personnel so confidently — ignoring repeated warning shots in the process — is what likely forced the U.S. military to respond by bombing their positions in the first place. Trump’s glorified “presidential” strike on a Syrian air base in April of this year was only carried out after the Russian military had already been notified.
Even without Russia’s military presence, it would take an estimated 70,000 American military personnel to dismantle Syria’s air defenses and maintain control of the country. This fact alone has made Syria an incredibly difficult target, which arguably explains why the U.S. has preferred to rely on proxy armies to do its dirty work, instead.
Considering that Syria and Russia just unified their air defense systems days ago, it looks as though the U.S. will never be able to forcibly achieve regime change in Syria without taking on the Russian military, as well. If history is to be any guiding factor at all, one can safely assume that unless the U.S. gets incredibly desperate, the world’s superpower will continue to look for other indirect means of toppling Assad rather than directly taking on the Syrian and Russian militaries.
When it comes to countries that are completely isolated and have weak militaries and small-scale weaponry with virtually no political support, the U.S. is more than happy to use their vastly superior military capabilities — even without U.N. Security Council resolutions that can arguably justify America’s criminal activity.
Make no mistake, even without any moral or legal basis, the U.S. would almost certainly have toppled Assad years ago were it not for Russian backing (Russia’s political intervention in 2013 alone was enough to put a stop to Obama’s expansive bombing proposal).
The U.S. should not intervene in the Syrian war in any way (and should immediately withdraw its illegal presence from the country); yet, if it had intervened directly against the Syrian government so, it would have only been if the Syrian government had become an easy target like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In this regard, the U.S. is little more than an overzealous and cowardly schoolyard bully, hell-bent on destroying only countries incapable of putting up any meaningful resistance.