(Sorry for the dearth in posting. Hope to do more soon, if anyone is still out there. Meanwhile, here’s my column from last month’s CounterPunch print magazine.) *** Just hours after the UK Parliament’s vote to bomb Syria on December 2, four British jets were scrambling from their base in Cyprus, on their way to strike oilfields held by ISIS. The launch point, Akrotiri, one of two UK bases on the island, was apt: Cyprus was one of the last colonies acquired by Britain — formally annexed in 1925, as the tidal wave of the Empire’s “late Victorian holocausts” was slowly beginning to ebb away. Now it serves the Empire’s withered rump as Britain joins France’s continuing attacks on its own former “protectorate,” Syria.
The Cyprus-based operation is an extension of Britain’s ongoing bombing campaign in its former colony — sorry, “mandate” — of Iraq: three former Ottoman provinces jammed together by London after its betrayal of the Arab forces it used as cannon fodder during the First World War, promising them liberation then dividing up their lands with the French. It took a savage bombing campaign against what Winston Churchill liked to call the “recalcitrant tribes” of the region before it was “pacified” into acquiescence — and laid open for exploitation of its oil. This was 95 years ago; and except for the technology — and the now-longer reach of the recalcitrant tribes — not much has changed.
Vast interests in oil and natural gas — both existing and potential — are in play behind the strutting moralizers striking poses in Parliament, the White House and the Elysee. (And in the Kremlin too, of course.) Competing pipelines — one favoring the West, undercutting Russia, the other bolstering Moscow and Tehran — are in the mix. (No points for guessing which one Assad decided to back, just before he stopped being a Hillary-praised “reformer” and became the new Saddam.) Now, as then, the imposition of Western dominance over the region — regardless of its form and nomenclature: colony, protectorate, ally, partner — also remains a paramount concern.
The fierce recalcitrants of ISIS take a back seat to these higher strategic goals. Although Britain’s rather pipsqueaky addition to the vast tonnage of ordnance that the US and France are raining down on Syria is, we’re told, a vital part of the allied effort to “defeat ISIS militarily,” it’s plain that this defeat is in no way a priority of our modern Churchills. If “defeating ISIS” really was their top strategic priority, then of course they would make common cause with all the forces now fighting the group — the Syrian army, Iran, Hizbollah, the Kurds — while cutting off ISIS’s supply-and-oil lifelines through Turkey and stopping the powerful financial institutions who are profitably washing ISIS’s money through their well-appointed boardrooms.
This is not happening because defeating ISIS — or quelling terrorism, for that matter — is not their main goal in Syria. Imposing regime change, for power and profit, is. ISIS plays an ambiguous role in this, as both hindrance and help. Although they are the most powerful force trying to unseat Assad, their very public brutality — continually amplified by the West’s own fearmongering media/political class — means they can’t be used as the chief “liberators” of Damascus. On the other hand, ISIS keeps Assad tied down and weakened, which neatly serves our leaders’ purposes.
What’s more, ISIS has already been instrumental in yet another regime change sought by Washington: the ouster of Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. (Yes, the man who took charge after the previous regime change imposed by Washington.) Barack Obama — to his credit, I guess — was very open about this. As he told an ever-fawning Thomas Friedman in August 2014: the reason “we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as [ISIS] came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of al-Maliki.”
Washington didn’t find him useful anymore — he was “corrupt” (although of course he was a piker compared to the multi-trillion-dollar corruption of Washington’s Terror War complex), he was too close to Iran, he was too “sectarian” (i.e., he was the inevitable product of the American occupation’s hideous policy of hardening Iraq’s sectarian differences in a replay of the British Empire’s tried-and-true ‘divide and conquer’ strategy) — so he had to go. ISIS was thus allowed to grow — conquer cities, seize oilfields, murder civilians — in order to force Iraq to change its government.
Now, having failed to dislodge Assad from power early on and impose a more compliant regime in Damascus, our leaders have decided that the dismemberment of Syria is now their next best option. Multi-sided, hydra-headed, interminable, intractable conflict — plus continued radicalization and intermittent terrorist attacks — will be the only result of the outside military interventions in Syria, just as it was in Iraq and Libya. (And Somalia and Yemen.)
But if we’ve learned anything in the course of this wretched 21st century of ours, it’s that history no longer exists. Or rather, it exists, but like a ghost few can see, exerting no pressure on our contextless present, informing no decisions, providing no nuance to public understanding. What happened in the last decade, last year, last week — much less a hundred years ago — melts into air, into thin air, leaving a baseless fabric that our politicians and their paymasters shape with their lies and manipulations.