November 5th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Hazelwood closure will push up power prices in Victoria

CANBERRA OBSERVED Out of the shadows of the backbench ...

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Obama Administration exacerbates Syria conflict

INDUSTRY AND ENVIRONMENT Wikileaks reveals U.S, funding behind anti-coal campaign

TAIWAN New president cautious, ambivalent towards Beijing

OPINION How to convert citizens into subjects and victims

FINANCE Untangling some knots of international tax

BRITISH AFFAIRS Brexit revisited: courts may come into play

LITERATURE The paradoxical idyll of Tolkien's Shire

HUMOUR Assembled and curated by Sebastian Gunlighter

MUSIC Unresolved melancholies

CINEMA Bittersweet Woody Allan: Cafe Society

BOOK REVIEW From von Ranke to van Gend

BOOK REVIEW More mystery than history

BOOK REVIEW An empire's collapse


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal rebuts commission's 'Get Pell' campaign

U.S. AFFAIRS First Brexit, now Trump: it's the economy, stupid!

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump Whitehouse

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Obama Administration exacerbates Syria conflict

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 5, 2016

Having stoked the Syrian conflict for the past four years by arming the so-called “moderate rebels”, the Obama Administration is compounding its error by encouraging Turkey, Syria’s hostile neighbour, to become involved militarily inside Syria.

There can be no doubt that by providing military support to anti-government rebels, and repeatedly demanding that Syria’s President Assad resign, the Obama Administration, and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular, encouraged the civil war, at the same time that the United States launched aerial bombing against al Qaeda and ISIS military targets in northern Iraq and Syria.

Bashar al Assad

No one is suggesting that the Assad regime is democratic: it is in fact a ruthless dictatorship. But his regime is no different from most others in the Middle East, including those of America’s allies. If America succeeds in overthrowing Assad, it is unclear whether he will be replaced by a better government.

There is one fundamental reason why Syria is different from Iraq, where the U.S. overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Saddam was a dictator, though that alone did not justify his overthrow. He was overthrown because he had repeatedly threatened the peace of the Middle East, through wars such as the Iran-Iraq war, which he started, and by his invasion of oil-rich Kuwait. The last straw was his refusal to permit United Nations inspections over weapons of mass destruction.

On the other hand, Syria’s President Bashar al Assad has never been a regional threat, but has tried to live in peace with neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Syria.

The Syria conflict is largely religious, with Sunni rebels demanding the overthrow of the Alawite Government, and the death of Assad. (The Alawites are regarded as a branch of the Shia Muslim faith, which has fought against the Sunnis for over 1,000 years.)

Turkey’s role

The role of Turkey in the Syrian conflict has been totally negative. Since the civil war in Syria started after the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey, which is run by Sunni Muslims, has opposed Assad by arming and providing logistical support for rebels operating in areas near the Turkish border.

When ISIS was established in northern Iraq, Turkey assisted ISIS by providing routes for contraband petroleum to be smuggled across the border into Turkey, where it could then be processed and sold as refined fuel.

Much of ISIS’ wealth came from the sale of oil smuggled into Turkey. It is inconceivable that the Turkish Government did not know about the trafficking and approve of it, because its military was involved in operations against Kurdish rebels in the same area.

Turkey severed its links with ISIS only recently, after facing immense pressure from the U.S., on whom it relies for defence equipment, and after the U.S. and its allies had waged a lengthy air campaign to destroy ISIS’ oil convoys into Turkey.

In the meantime, Turkey has continued a bitter war against Kurdish separatists operating in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Turkey has bitterly opposed America’s support for Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and in Syria, and Turkey’s leaders have publicly said that they regard the Kurds as worse than ISIS. The Kurds, who are also Sunni Muslims, have been the most effective local fighters against both ISIS and Shia militias in northern Iraq, and have pushed ISIS back from some of its strongholds in the north of both Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish Government clearly believes that the Kurds want to establish a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, and have demanded that Washington stop supporting the Kurds.

Following an unsuccessful military coup against Turkey’s President Erdogan, Turkey has turned its back on Washington, and has re-established ties with Moscow, while announcing that it will intervene militarily in Syria by sending Turkish troops to occupy strategic territory in northern Syria, and join the fight to liberate the north Syrian city of Aleppo from ISIS, while it continues to wage war against the Kurds.

The latest development in this complicated situation is that the Obama Administration, clearly fearing that Turkey will fall into Russia’s sphere of influence, has given active support to the Turkish moves.

Betrayal of Kurds

Within a week of Turkish tanks moving over the Syrian border in August, American Vice-President Joe Biden stood beside Turkish President Erdogan and commanded the Kurds to back off and let Turkey have its way – surrendering to Turkey territory they had won from ISIS.

The sense of betrayal felt by the Kurds cannot be overstated.

In this sorry situation, the only certainty is that Russia continues to pursue a single-minded policy of supporting the Assad Government through the deployment of air power against Assad’s opposition, and in providing arms and ammunition to the Syrian military.

Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war continues unabated, with both civilian and military casualties mounting on all sides. Sadly, Washington has contributed to the carnage.

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