On Wednesday, we said that while even we were surprised at how quickly the Western propaganda machine was put into motion in the wake of Russia’s first airstrikes in Syria, it wasn’t at all surprising to see reports surface that Moscow was targeting US-backed forces rather than ISIS. Here’s how we put it:
Followiing Russian lawmakers’ move to officially sanction airstrikes in Syria, Moscow wasted no time in launching its first round of air raids. In turn, the West wasted no time in contending that Russia is targeting areas that aren’t known to be strategically significant for ISIS. Here’s a look at two headlines which do a nice job of summarizing all of the rhetoric which you’re about to hear emanating ceaselessly from every corner of the Western world in the coming days and weeks:
- U.S. IS CONCERNED RUSSIA'S INTENT IS PROTECTING ASSAD: KERRY
- U.S. HAS 'GRAVE CONCERNS' IF RUSSIA STRIKES OUTSIDE ISIL AREAS
And here’s WSJ with a sneak peek at the new narrative which Washington will be working hard to refine:
Russian President Vladimir Putin inserted his country directly into Syria’s war Wednesday, as Russian forces launched their first airstrikes against what Moscow said were Islamic State targets in the Middle Eastern nation.
But Western leaders raised doubts about whether Russia really intended to take the fight to Islamic State, or merely broaden the Syrian regime’s offensive against a wide range of other opponents.
But with the exception of the area east of the town of Salamiyah in Hama province, none of the areas listed by the Syrian regime have a known presence of Islamic State fighters. They are largely dominated by relatively moderate rebel factions and Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham and the al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.
And then Reuters jumped on the bandwagon, saying that based on a Skype interview with rebel commanders, it was clear that Russian warplanes were deliberately targeting anti-regime forces other than ISIS.
The point here isn't to suggest that Moscow isn't targeting other rebel factions operating in Syria, it's to say that i) Russia has never made a secret of its intentions to bolster Assad by routing any extremist elements aiming to overthrow the government in Damascus, and ii) the idea that the US and its regional allies are a good judge of who is a "moderate" rebel and who is or will end up being a terrorist is laughable. Indeed, thanks to the brutality of ISIS, the "moderate" label is now being openly applied to al-Qaeda (see the WSJ article cited above) which would appear to suggest that Washington would prefer a Syria run by Ayman al-Zawahiri rather than Assad.
Well on Thursday the media propaganda machine kicked into high gear as WSJ is now effectively chiding Russia for hitting areas controlled in part by "CIA-backed rebels". Here's more:
Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
One of the airstrikes hit an area primarily held by rebels backed by the Central Intelligence Agency and allied spy services, U.S. officials said, catapulting the Syrian crisis to a new level of danger and uncertainty. Moscow’s entry means the world’s most powerful militaries—including the U.S., Britain and France—now are flying uncoordinated combat missions, heightening the risk of conflict in the skies over Syria.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia’s approach to the Syrian war—defending Mr. Assad while ostensibly targeting extremists—was tantamount to “pouring gasoline on the fire.”
“I have been dealing with them for a long time. And this is not the kind of behavior that we should expect professionally from the Russian military,” Mr. Carter said at a Pentagon news conference.
The U.S. and its allies were angry at the Russians on many scores: that they are supporting Mr. Assad; that they aren’t coordinating their actions with the existing, U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition; that they provided terse notice only an hour before their operations; that they demanded the U.S. coalition stay out of Syrian airspace; and that they struck in areas where anti-Assad rebels—not Islamic State—operate.
“It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces, and that is precisely one of the problems with this whole approach,” said Mr. Carter, the U.S. defense chief.
It would be a "problem with the approach" if your aim wasn't to restore the Assad regime, but because that is Russia's explicit (not secret, and not "mysterious", as Washington insists) aim, there's no "problem" with it at all.
Back to WSJ for the inevtiable comparisons with Crimea and Ukraine:
The U.S. spy agency has been arming and training rebels in Syria since 2013 to fight the Assad regime. Rebels who receive support under a separate arming and training program run by the Pentagon weren’t in areas targeted by Russia in its initial strikes, the officials said.
The combination of unpredictable, unilateral action that flouted Western exhortations posed an unmistakable resemblance to Ukraine, where Mr. Putin moved to annex the Crimea region and has defied international demands to halt its support for separatists.
Mr. Putin’s decision-making in Syria mirrors the way he has approached Ukraine, said Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“He deliberately tries to do things to throw opponents off balance and he’s always trying to get some sort of element of surprise and tactical advantage over people, that’s sort of what keeps him going is this constant springing surprises and flipping events in his favor,” said Mr. Weiss, who worked on Russia policy in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.
Yes, an "unmistakable resemblance to Ukraine," much like Washington's approach to ousting Assad by training and arming extremist elements marks an "unmistakable resemblance" to countless Mid-East foreign policy blunders where the results of Washington's meddling end up being far worse than the "problem" the US was trying to "fix."
And on that note, we'll simply close by saying that while we have no doubt that Russian airstrikes will contribute to the human suffering in Syria (they're dropping bombs on populated areas after all), anyone covering this story should be careful to note that civilians (women and children included) have been dying by the hundreds of thousands in Syria for years while the US continued to support the proxy armies that contributed to the instability. So keep that in mind when you read things like the following passage, again from WSJ:
Video filmed by people affiliated with local rebel groups and posted on YouTube showed the aftermath of the airstrikes in Talbiseh. In one video, rebels and citizens are seen rushing down a street as thick black smoke and fire engulfed heavily damaged buildings. Then they are shown attempting to rescue those trapped under the rubble. A dazed man covered in blood was lifted up from the ground and taken outside.
“Is there anyone here?” a voice is heard shouting. “I don’t know, I don’t know but lots of people live here!” answers a panicked man.
In another video a naked child covered in blood and shrapnel is shown crying on a bed at a local field hospital.