Reaping the Whirlwind: Kerry, al-Nusra, Russia and Syria

By Gary Leupp

On 2017, the UNSC will convene for the resolution of the Syrian conflict with the aim of saving Syria and its people from the prolonged war. This article offers an interesting analysis of the US’ “humanitarian mission” in Syria.


“I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration. I lost the argument. I’ve argued for the use of force. I’m the guy who stood up [in August 2013] and announced that we’re going to attack Assad for the use of weapons.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, talking informally with Syrian “opposition” members, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Oct. 3, 2016


The Libya UNSC Resolution of 2011: Template for the Syria Resolution of 2017?

I’ve been re-reading UNSC Resolution 1973, which provided a legal fig leaf for the regime-change assault on Libya from March to October 2011.

That catastrophe was initially urged by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron and endorsed by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who persuaded President Obama to ignore the Pentagon’s opposition and lead NATO in bombing what was North Africa’s most prosperous country.

Recall how Clinton confidant and former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter emailed her on March 19, the day the bombing started, with subject line “Bravo!” expressing high praise for her central role. Having earlier assured Clinton that US action against Libya would “change the image of the United States overnight,” she now declared, “I cannot imagine how exhausted you must be after this week, but I have NEVER been prouder of having worked for you. Turning POTUS [Obama] around on this is a major win for everything we have worked for.”

Everything we have worked for! To what broader insider concept does this allude? Towards what grander purpose had Slaughter laboured, as a Clinton adviser from 2009 to February 2011 – those golden years of the Afghan surge, the Honduras coup, the relentless NATO expansion, plans for Ukrainian regime change? Total global mayhem, gleefully unleashed by glass ceiling-breaking strong women?

Everyone with a brain realises that that bombardment led to bloody regime change and subsequent ongoing chaos and regional destabilisation. The GDP has dropped from $ 75 billion in 2010 to $ 29 billion last year. ISIL was for a time in control of Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, and al-Qaeda has expanded its presence. Much of Gaddafi’s arsenal has fallen into the hands of terrorists or tribal militias, including some in surrounding countries struggling to contain the ramifications for themselves of the US/NATO destruction of their neighbour.

Clinton’s decisive championing of this crime is the ugliest thing on her record as a public official (which is saying a lot). It’s amazing that it has hardly been a campaign issue. Sanders was criminally negligent in avoiding criticism of the Secretary’s foreign policy (which is to say, war mongering) record. His ads ought to have played this grotesque cinéma vérité again and again.¹


A Lie Exposed, as Libya was Destroyed

Resolution 1973 could, with just slight rewording, be submitted to the UNSC in January, as now-President Hillary follows up on her vow to make Syria her foreign policy priority, just substituting “Syria” for “Libya” (or “the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”).

Having described a myriad of human rights violations that might apply to most regimes in the region, that template text specifically established a “No-fly zone” and “Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians…” There was no reference to bombing government buildings and troops fighting Islamist militias, or to targeting Gaddafi personally. This was to be a humanitarian mission.

Resolution 1973 could, with just slight rewording, be submitted to the UNSC in January, as now-President Hillary follows up on her vow to make Syria her foreign policy priority, just substituting “Syria” for “Libya” (or “the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”).

Proposed formally by the UK, France and Lebanon, the resolution was approved March 17, 2011 by a vote of 10 to 5. Alongside the sponsors, the US, South Africa, Nigeria, Portugal, Colombia, Boznia-Herzegovina and Gabon voted in favour. Russia, China, India, Brazil and Germany abstained. (The combined populations of the latter constitute 40% of the world’s total, by the way, while the “pro” votes represented – to the extent that UN votes ever represent anybody – about 10%.)

Soon everyone realised they’d been tricked. This was no humanitarian mission to prevent genocide. It was a precision-missile strike on a newfound western ally who (the imperialists suddenly thought) would surely fall in this fated “Arab Spring”. They thought they’d do the honours, take him out first, grab credit, and win the gratitude of whatever group of clients sat there at the end of the day on all that petroleum and gold intended for minting as African dinars challenging the control of western banks over the continent’s economy.

But things went very wrong. Now the world is torn between horror at the results (such as the beheadings of Coptic Christians on the beach at Tripoli by ISIL) and Schadenfreude as the westerners having sown the wind once again (post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq) reap the whirlwind.

If there is any silver lining to seeing the US and its allies destroy a country like Libya, it’s seeing the reputation of the US and its allies appropriately tank in world public opinion afterwards. It will be harder now for Hillary to rally public opinion for the “no-fly” zone that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top US uniformed commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week would surely mean war with Syria and Russia.


War with Russia

Generally speaking, people in this country do not want more wars based on lies in distant countries that neither they nor their leaders understand. So if and when a huffy Hillary sends her new ambassador to the UN to procure a Security Council resolution (to “help protect civilians”), and the effort fails, faced by veto threats, they will feel relieved.

But what does she do then? Having made Syria her priority, but thwarted in her bid to produce immediate change, and having likely generated some antiwar protests from the burnt Bernie people (among others), and having met with unexpected mass revulsion after her inauguration amidst new Wikileaks revealing more mendacity, Hillary will snap.

In her illness she will unilaterally order a no-fly zone. The Russians may say, “No, this has to stop. You cannot order a sovereign government to stop bombing its foes, or the armed forced of any allied state to do so. The era of US imperialist impunity in the Middle East is over.” The world will generally agree.

Generally speaking, people in this country do not want more wars based on lies in distant countries that neither they nor their leaders understand.

You push and you push and you push and you push. You expand NATO, an anti-Russian military alliance, to the very borders of Russia. You reconfigure the once-proud state of Yugoslavia, creating dysfunctional states and pronouncing the Serbian province of Kosovo an independent state, in defiance of international law. You establish a huge army base there. You declare your intention to include Georgia and Ukraine in NATO and meddle ceaselessly in the politics of those countries to promote this goal. You systematically distort recent history; your press, linked at the hip to your State Department, represents reality precisely backwards.

Thus, following a clear succession of events, in which marked progress towards a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict was abruptly shattered by the United States, the US has announced that not only has it suspended talks with Russia on Syria but blames the whole conflict on Moscow.

More specifically, following these events – a US-Russia deal on a Syrian ceasefire, which was to be followed by coordinated US-Russian strikes on ISIL and al-Nusra or Fateh al-Sham; the US-Coalition assault on a Syrian army base, killing at least 62 Syrian soldiers and leading to the immediate seizure of the position by ISIL; the Syrian and Russian protests and the US’ grudging apology for an ostensible “mistake”; the bombing of the Aleppo aid convoy, killing about 20, which the US without evidence blamed on Syrian or Russian aircraft; and predictions in both Washington and Moscow that the US-Russia talks would soon break down – the US press wedded to the State Department concludes that Russia is responsible for the whole mess, because it continues to support Assad.

(But was this not the case for many years before the overt US campaign to oust him beginning in 2011? Was it not the case during the long months of US-Russian negotiations? Had not Kerry concurred that the most urgent issue to deal with was ISIL and al-Nusra, and that Assad’s future could be held on the back burner for the time being?)

The US press has largely ignored the fact that, after months of detailed negotiations between the US and Russia for a ceasefire and renewal of political talks between Syrian parties in Geneva, and after nearly a week of substantial success in observing the plan, the US and its allies – present in Syria illegally – attacked and killed dozens of Syrian soldiers engaged in resistance to the vicious menace of ISIL, which immediately seized the position, provoking the breakdown of the entire plan, and sabotaging the plan for humanitarian assistance to al-Nusra-held east Aleppo, Washington blames the entire crisis on Moscow.

Why? Because (we are suddenly reminded, by Kerry in Brussels some hours ago) Russia has been “intervening” in Syria “on behalf of the regime” since last fall – a regime that the Secretary of State, in what were obviously carefully rehearsed lines, is guilty of the “deplorable use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs against his people” and which (with Russia) chooses “to continue their pursuit of a military victory over the broken bodies, bombed-out hospitals and traumatised children of a long-suffering land”.

In other words, forget everything that’s happened since Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced from their thrones in 2011 that the Syrian government had lost legitimacy and must step down. (That was when the deaths from mass protests were in the low thousands, before the US and its allies poured billions of dollars of aid into factions of the armed opposition, whom have since killed over 100,000 Syrian government soldiers alongside al-Nusra and ISIL.)

Forget the well-documented bombing by US forces of hospitals in Afghanistan and Iraq (or those of the Saudis in Yemen, or the Israelis in Gaza). Forget the bodies broken by US bombs in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. Blame the Russians for aiding the horrible Assad (of whom your average US resident knows and cares almost nothing) in trying to maintain power rather than fleeing and leaving the future of Syria in the hands of those who’ve done such a great job handling state-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

And insist that the whole mess that so shocks and offends humanity can only be resolved when, by hook or by crook, Assad is toppled.

That is, to repeat, only when Assad (disliked not due to his human rights record – not at all, since he cooperated in the US “special renditions” program of torture after 9/11 – but due to his hostility towards Israel based in part on the fact that Israel has, in the judgement of the entire world, illegally occupied over 500 square miles of Syrian territory since 1967; disliked because Damascus has supported Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Amal parties and Hamas among other Palestinian organisations that Israel and the US in their wisdom deem “terrorist”; disliked because Syria for complex reasons rooted in its religious and political history has been led by members of a Muslim religious minority – an offshoot of Shi’ism, in a 70% Sunni country – who have promoted secularism and especially sought Christian and other minority support, which they retain now among those with a rational fear of a brutal Sunni Islamist regime) is toppled.

And toppled by people not only abjectly ignorant of the Middle East, but incapable of even staring recent history in the face and drawing the obvious lesson that US exercises in regime change have been, not just mistakes or (even worse) failures, but hideous crimes generating massive, rational, justified hatred for those responsible!

US officials, in the employ of this Exceptional Nation, rule out any prospect of US soldiers ever submitting to trial before an international tribunal. That would be unfair, they say, given all the prejudice against Americans. To this the sophisticated mind responds: Well duh.

This “Exceptionalism” (is it not bizarre, by the way, that this so Nazi-like a concept, entailing a notion of the US from its beginning to the present as the world’s eternal saviour and beloved, made exceptional by something [God?] can ignore the rules applicable to non-exceptional nations and do whatever it wants?) has in recent history just, in the world at large, produced outrage.

Germans and French people outraged by the NSA monitoring of their communications have not been saying, “It’s ok, they’re exceptional.” Europeans dismayed by the massive refugee influx from countries destroyed by the US, and noting the US’ own lack of hospitality towards Middle East immigrants, have not been saying, “It’s okay, we’ll take them in, since the US is exceptional.”

You’d think policy makers in the US that the Libya episode is seen globally as a hideous disaster, based – once again – on lies. (There never was any evidence that Gaddafi planned anything like “genocide” in Benghazi.) But no, they’re lusting for more blood.

A tsunami is building in the State Department, which Hillary insured would remain a bastion of neocon and “liberal” advocates of ongoing imperialist aggression. There is a perhaps irresistible tidal wave swelling, splashing up around the Russian naval base at Tartus, while another advances towards Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. War looms, while the anchors on cable TV dwell on political trivia, today’s police murder, Putin’s supposed efforts to influence the US election, and Angelina’s shocking split with Brad.

A tsunami is building in the State Department, which Hillary insured would remain a bastion of neocon and “liberal” advocates of ongoing imperialist aggression.

But think Libya, Part II. Only much, much worse. Because this time Russia will not accept a US-inflicted regime change. China and India and the world in general will oppose it, while NATO will likely be split (as it was on Iraq, and even in fact on Libya in 2011). The US will be left with the worst rights-abusers in the world (including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain) to support al-Qaeda spin-offs in a war against a secular regime.

And that all-too-familiar harsh, hollow, dishonest voice will be out there, howling about barrel-bombs, used against his own people as multiple powers (including the traditional Middle Eastern three – Arabs, Iranians, Turks – plus the Ottomans’ long-term adversaries the Russians, and the colonial British and French, and since their invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US forces as well) hover in the Syrian skies, pursuing cross-purposes, collectively bombing all forces on the ground.


The US’ Silent Christians

You’d think the Christian community in this country would be up in arms against US policy in Syria. You’d think Christians would realise that their coreligionists in Syria have historically supported the Ba’ath Party (co-founded as it was by the Christian Michel Aflaq) given its secularism and tolerance in the face of powerful, anti-Christian Islamist forces in the country.

You’d think that they’d feel horror at the destruction of what Christians consider part of the Holy Land. St. Paul after all is supposed to have experienced his conversion of the “road to Damascus”; you can still visit the “Road called Straight” where Paul met Ananias, who baptised him. There’s a church there that tour guides tell you occupies the location of Ananias’ cellar.

Christians were first called by that name in Antioch (then part of Syria). Jesus’ disciple Thomas supposedly did missionary work here. The Great Mosque of Damascus was built on a Christian basilica that claimed to house the head of John the Baptist. The shrine remains within the mosque as a pilgrimage site for all.

Syria has historically had a large Christian minority. After the seventh century Muslim conquests many Christians and Jews in what is now Syria converted to the new faith. (After all, Muslims were tax-exempt.) But as of the 1940s about one-third of Syrians were Christians of various denominations, and about 10% of the population remained so in 2011. But now many thousands are fleeing the chaos and bloodshed of their homeland, meeting with suspicion, prejudice and exploitation at every turn.

The Russian Orthodox Church (which yes, let us note, is pro-Putin) repeatedly draws attention to the plight of Syrian Christians, many of whom share its theological tenets. A Russian Orthodox bishop addressed the UN in 2012 appealing for help in ending the persecution of Christians in Syria. This persecution is obviously not coming from the regime.

Is it not clear that, just as regime change and US occupation produced no good for the Christians of Iraq – whose numbers have dropped from 1.5 million in 2003 to between 400,000 and 200,000 today – it will produce nothing good for the people of Syria?

It is one thing to accept joint US-Russian bombing of people who burn and bury people alive, crucify and behead children, enslave and rape women, blow up priceless historical monuments, use chemical weapons, terrorise whole communities into flight, dispatch operatives to western cities to inflict random terror and effectively use social media to motivate lone wolves globally to seek Paradise (or some sort of final endorphin rush, as the brain dies and paradise within it).

It’s another thing for the US (cynically and sickeningly pleading humanitarian motivations after all its obvious crimes) to bomb Syria to prevent the defeat of ISIL, al-Nusra, and al-Nusra bosom buddies such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Nour al-Din Zenki etc. by the Damascus government.

It’s outrageous that the latter militia, which receives US support and is not included on the US’ terror list, can decapitate the 12-year-old Palestinian boy Abdullah Issa on a train in Syria three months ago, cameras rolling; apologise once the event becomes known, issuing a press release attributing the child-murder as resulting from “individual errors that represent neither our typical practices nor our general policies; and retain US support. They are still classified as “moderates” in the US taxonomy of anti-Assad forces.

It’s unforgivable that the US – ultimately, through its criminal invasion of Iraq – generated these hideous forces. The US is not best placed to handle the repercussions of its actions, and has in the recent past both bombed and aided them as it sought to coordinate with its allies, who have their own competing agendas. And Russia is no historic role model as a respecter of national sovereignty. But the prospect of the two cooperating – in the destruction of the forces most threatening basic norms of civilisation in Syria – was good news to me a couple weeks ago.

But things changed.


Kerry, the Guy Who Stood Up

Breaking news! Kerry boasts to Syrian “opposition leaders” behind closed doors in New York that he had been “the guy” arguing “for the use of force” against Assad all along,

“I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration. I lost the argument. I’ve argued for the use of force. I’m the guy who stood up and announced that we’re going to attack Assad for the use of weapons.”

The likely collapse of cooperation means an end to good news. Kerry refers to a plan to assault Syria in 2013 that had been cancelled by Obama.

As he continues to champion that cause; as the State Department and servile media incredibly downplay the destruction of a Syrian Arab Army base by the US and three allies Sept. 17, just five days after the cease-fire painstakingly negotiated between Kerry and Lavrov had gone into effect, complaining that critics are making too much of the deaths of a mere 62 Syrian soldiers fighting ISIL; as they in contrast play up the attack on a UN aid convoy on Sept. 19 that killed 12 in Aleppo, blaming it on Russia without evidence; as State Department hawks salivate at the prospect of a Hillary victory; as the top brass brand Russia an “existential threat” (the main threat, indeed, more worrisome than ISIL or al-Qaeda); as the Russian Foreign Ministry intimates – plausibly – that the US’ “Plan B” (following the collapse of negotiations with Russia towards Syrian peace) is an alliance with the relabeled al-Nusra/Fateh al-Sham towards the common goal of toppling Assad; as we hear reports of Israelis (as well as Turks, Saudis, and Qataris) providing training and advice to al-Nusra-aligned forces in Aleppo, in their common desire to smash the secular, anti-Zionist Syrian state; as we witness a myriad of clueless, naïve Sally Struthers types appealing to “our” government to “do something”; as the propaganda gets ever more shameless, and its popularisers immune from scrutiny and fact-checking, it’s fair to conclude that Clinton will go to war.

The topic for discussion on RT (Russia Today) a couple days ago was something like: “Do the Americans really believe that if they announce a no-fly zone, illegally, in a country where Russia military aircraft fly at official invitation, Russia will just accept it, in its desire to avoid war?”

Hillary is likely to say, “We sure do!” Even though her top military advisers are already telling her that a no-fly-zone means war with Russia, she’ll be likely to risk it.

She’s the FIRST WOMAN US PRESIDENT! Who has more right to do that? Who has the experience to order the downing of some Sukhoi fighter jets over Aleppo, Palmyra or Deir al-Zour, to show the Russians and the world who’s boss in a country 600 miles south of the Russian border? Who has the judgement to build on years of abject failure in identifying, much less organising, Syrians willing to work with the US against the Syrian government, bad as it is – years in which her 2011 command to Assad to step down has met with dogged disobedience, and its ability to preserve control in areas where 80% of the people live become annoyingly obvious – and to produce out of thin air the “moderates” who will rise to power after Assad meets the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi?

Who better to drive the Russians out of Latakia and Tartus – and then move on to re-take the Crimean Peninsula for Ukraine!

In her initial war moves soon after her inauguration, Clinton will not “change the image of the US overnight”, as Anne-Marie Slaughter praised her for doing in arranging the ruin of Libya. The image had indeed been hideous for a long time, as of 2011. This will not change anytime soon, before the revolution.

But the US image in the minds of (say) Germans – thinking, “Why do these people, while stationing 50,000 troops in my country, taking our support for granted, keep attacking countries unprovoked, producing disaster (including the flight of two million refugees overrunning Europe while the US an ocean away bears no consequences), virtually encouraging terrorism by their actions?” – might steadily deteriorate.

I mention Germans because they are, next to the UK, the key ally to the US within NATO. And both the German people and the Foreign Ministry seem inclined to discourage Washington’s relentless provocations of Russia. They understand Russia’s concerns about any further expansion of the NATO alliance, which any student of history knows was created by the US in 1949 (when it had half the world’s GDP and the ability to whip its dependents and war-weakened allies into submission) as an anti-Soviet, anti-communist military pact. Many think it outdated, unnecessary, dangerous.

A second Libya in Syria would change the image of the US (in Europe, and surely, in China and India which support the Syrian regime) from that of a state that merely destroys weak opponents to one that risks World War III with a resistant state’s nuclear-armed ally, the country that defeated Hitler, to achieve its “national interests” (of controlling oil flow, challenging Russia everywhere, and serving Israel’s supposed security needs).


Monday (10/3)

Okay, time to get more anxious. AFP reports:

“The United States on Monday suspended negotiations with Russia on efforts to revive a failed ceasefire in Syria and set up a joint military cell to target jihadists.
“’This is not a decision that was taken lightly,’ State Department spokesman John Kirby said, accusing Russia and its Syrian ally of stepping up attacks on civilian areas.
“White House spokesman Josh Earnest added: ‘Everybody’s patience with Russia has run out.’

Hillary is likely to say, “We sure do!” Even though her top military advisers are already telling her that a no-fly-zone means war with Russia, she’ll be likely to risk it.

(I’m not surprised that the patience of John Kirby – an arrogant clown who can’t think on his feet – has run out as RT reporters keep asking him very embarrassing questions.)²

The AFP report also states: “…the United States is calling back home personnel who had been sent to Geneva in order to set up a ‘Joint Implementation Center’ with Russian officers to plan coordinated strikes. And US diplomats will suspend discussions with Russia on reviving a September 9 deal reached between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”

There you have it. The full ruin of a peace process that might have restrained Hillary’s imperial ambitions. Following the rigged election, and the masses’ perception of its rigging, which will be blamed on Russian “interference”, the Wall Street and DNC-crowned first Queen in US history who demands the “exceptional” nation’s God-given right to rig elections from Honduras to Ukraine will give her speech outlining her intentions in relation to Syria, her top foreign-policy priority.

She will likely sneer at Russia, as the entire US power structure has done, particularly since Russia so indignantly responded to the US’ cavalier murder of Syrian conscript boys by actually calling a UNSC meeting to embarrass poor Samantha. She will draw upon a lingering Cold War mentality that still resonates in some Neanderthal circles. She will take contempt for the United Nations and international law to new heights as she assumes for herself the task of “saving” Syria. As she did Libya.

But the world has changed since 2011. There will be no UN fig leaf. The peoples of Europe, forced into austerity by the big banks, challenged by mass migration and unhappy with US-forced sanctions on Russia, will listen to Clinton unmoved as she announces plans to liberate another people.

Occupation Wall Street started in 2011. Black Lives Matter followed, and then came the Sanders campaign. There is much more knowledge and experience to be deployed this time, out in the streets of this country and others, against another imperialist, racist war.

The article was first published on Counterpunch, 6 October 2016.


About the Author

leuppGary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan, Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.



The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.