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Americas responsibility toward Syrian

refugees

Greg Shupak-16 March 2017

President Donald Trumps second major executive order on


immigration bans people from six countries with Muslim majorities
from entering the United States: Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan,
Libya and Syria. The new order, scheduled to take effect on 16
March but frozen at the 11th hour by a federal judge, bars
travelers from these six countries for 90 days and refugees for
120 days. Certain waivers could be applied.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post denounced
the new order. The New York Times called it a Muslim Ban Lite,
in reference to the first and now retracted executive order on
immigration that Trump issued in January.

Yet neither newspaper mentions the role that the US has played in
creating these refugee flows.

The Syrian case is particularly notable, both because it is the


worlds single largest refugee crisis and because of the key role
the US, along with allies such as Israel, has played in the disaster
there, which has long been suppressed in the American
consciousness.

Indeed, the lie that the US failed to Do Something in Syria is


remarkably widespread. This approach perpetuates the myth that
Americans are innocent in the Syrian catastrophe. This could
scarcely be less true: the US, Israel and other regional
components in the US empire have fueled the conflict by derailing
negotiations, levying sanctions, bombing the country and arming,
funding and training fighters including murderous sectarians.

As scholar Bassam Haddad writes: The [Syrian] government


with much help from its regional and international allies has
brutalized the Syrian population since 2011. This fact, however,
does not absolve its regional and international opponents from
responsibility for significantly contributing to the mayhem.

He describes a consensus among Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and


the United States centered around the notion that Syria and its
allies needed to be cut down to size because they impede
domination of the region by those players along with their allies,
notably Israel.

These very powers almost tripped over themselves as they


rushed to fuel and hijack the Syrian uprising for their own
purposes.
Israeli strikes in Syria
One example of what Haddad describes as cutting Syria and its
allies down to size is hostile Israeli military action in Syria of
which there have been several reported instances over the past
few years. (It is standard Israeli policy never to confirm or deny
such attacks in foreign countries.)

In December 2012, Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights,


counter-attacking against mortar fire, struck a Syrian artillery unit.
In January 2013, American officials said Israel carried
out airstrikes on the outskirts of Damascus against what they
claim were antiaircraft weapons being transferred to Hizballah.
Less than five months later, Israeli jets devastated targets
near Damascus that Western and Israeli officials allege were
connected to a shipment of Iranian weapons to Hizballah.

Between July 2013 and January 2014, Israel is understood to have


bombed Latakia three times. The July attack reportedly saw the
Israeli navy strike a shipment of Russian-made anti-ship missiles;
that October, a US official said Israels air force bombed Russian
missiles that the US believed were bound for Hizballah; in January,
Israeli planes were said to have targeted a warehouse that
apparently held Russian missiles.

A January 2015 bombing in Syria, attributed to Israel killed six


members of Hizballah and six Iranians, including a general.
What such attacks show is that Israel is engaged in direct military
interventions in Syria that target the Syrian government and thus
favor the opposition. In no cases did the US criticize the Israeli
bombing of Syria. That the US has only increased the degree to
which it arms Israel since these incidents demonstrates at least
tacit approval of them and makes the US a party to the acts.

During the Syrian war, Israel has hastened its colonization of the
Syrian territory it occupies, the Golan Heights. Israeli planners
have oscillated between wanting all sides in Syria
to bleed indefinitely, which would render the country too weak to
challenge Israel and would bog down Iran and Hizballah, the
Syrian governments allies, and wanting the non-Islamic State
group elements of Syrias opposition to oust the Syrian
government because of the blow that would be to Iran and
Hizballah. Israel has provided medical care to Syrian opposition
fighters and the Israeli military has been in regular contact with
Syrian armed groups.

Furthermore, a US-led coalition has bombed Syria more


than 7,100 times since the fall of 2014 in the name of defeating
the Islamic State, killing between 914 and 1,361 civilians in the
process. Earlier this month, the US sent hundreds of troops into
northern Syria as part of the effort against the Islamic State.
Its possible that the Syrian government will benefit from a
campaign that rids the country of the Islamic State. However, it is
a mistake to see the US-led war on the group as designed to keep
the Syrian government in power.

For example, the Americans have armed the Syrian opposition in


the period since the US began bombing the Islamic State. The
American effort against the group and the more general regional
war is about the American ruling class seeking to enrich itself via
the military industrial complex while simultaneously deepening
the American capacity to influence what happens in Syria in both
the short and long term by, for example, building military bases in
the country.

The notion that the US has been an innocent observer of the war
is pure fiction. The US and Israel have participated in the
destruction of Syria and, accordingly, have a share in the
responsibility for its disastrous consequences, one of which is the
mass dispersion of Syrians.
Keeping the war going
The Washington Post reports that, from at least 2013 to 2015, the
CIA spent $1 billion per year or about one-fifteenth of its budget
to train and equip nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria,
combatants the paper describes as anti-Assad rebels.

Similarly, the US and its allies repeatedly derailed diplomatic


efforts that might have ended the war years ago when the
number of people killed and made refugees was much smaller.

The entirely predictable consequence of hindering negotiations


while increasing the volume of weapons in a war-torn country and
teaching fighters there how to kill is that there has been an
increase in the number of casualties. By taking these steps in
Syria, the US took actions that they had to have known would
plunge Syria deeper into war and make people have to leave their
homes in the resulting violence.

There are also grounds for concluding that the US knowingly


enabled, and in some cases directly supported, anti-government
forces in Syria that committed war crimes against minorities.
Andrew Cockburn writes in Harpers Magazine that according to
several sources, a US-Turkish-Saudi coordination room in
southern Turkey had also ordered the rebel groups it was
supplying to cooperate with Jaish al-Fatah. The groups, in other
words, would be embedded within the al-Qaida coalition.

A Financial Times report also describes the covert operations


center, the Mterek Operasyon Merkezi (MOM), which the US
formed with Britain, France, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and
Turkey in early 2014. An opposition figure close to MOM-backed
commanders says that MOM commanders inflated weapons
requests to hoard or sell on the black market, some of which
wound up going to the Islamic State group or al-Nusra. He told the
newspaper: The CIA knew about this, of course, everyone in
MOM did. It was the price of doing business.

Jaish al-Fatah was a coalition of opposition groups led by Jabhat al-


Nusra, al-Qaidas branch in Syria. The brutal, sectarian nature of
this group was public knowledge. It was reportedly behind the
massacre of 60 minority Shia villagers in June 2013.

There is also reason to believe that al-Nusra was involved in the


January 2014 butchering of 32 Alawi, Christians and Druze, all of
whom are minorities in Syria. In June 2015, the group reportedly
massacred at least 20 Druze villagers.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a CIA-vetted group that received TOW anti-


tank missiles from the US, has now formally joined forces with al-
Nusra, which has changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
A July 2016 report from Amnesty International accuses al-Zinki
and other opposition groups in Aleppo and Idlib of being involved
in 24 cases of civilian abductions, including children and human
rights activists, and minorities abducted solely on account of
their religion or ethnicity.

Moreover, the United States supports the remnants of the Free


Syrian Army, though many of these fighters have vowed
vengeance against Syrias Shiites and other minorities, and also
armed a CIA-vetted group called al-Rahman Corps that in East
Ghouta has allied with the organization formerly known as al-
Nusra.

There is also reason to believe that the US government did not


particularly object to its allies helping bring the Islamic State to
power. In an August 2014 email released by Wikileaks, Hillary
Clinton says that the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are
providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [Islamic
State] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.

As the Financial Times story shows, the US was working with both
countries at the MOM joint operations center at the time of
Clintons email. The American government then kept
selling weapons to the Saudis and Qatar after the point that
Clinton acknowledged that the US was aware those two
governments were supporting the Islamic State.

Before these events it was well known that the Islamic State
specifically targeted minorities for violence. For instance, in 2013,
in Syria the group carried out attacks on family members of
Kurdish fighters and kidnappings of hundreds of civilians on the
basis of their ethnic identity.
Yet a leaked tape of Secretary of State John Kerry from last
September suggests that the US government saw the Islamic
State group as an opportunity to weaken the Syrian government
and its allies. We were watching, he says. We saw that Daesh
[Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad
was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably
manage, you know, that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of
negotiating, he got Putin to support him.
A share of the responsibility for refugees
A nonprofit group based in Syria called the Syrian Centre for
Policy Research has thoroughly documented the economics of the
war. The centers reports have been supported by UNRWA, the UN
agency for Palestine refugees, and the United Nations
Development Program. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research
study Confronting Fragmentation identifies unbearable
economic conditions and hardship as being, along with security
concerns, a central force driving Syrians from their homes.

The Syrian Centre for Policy Research also points to sanctions,


which the US and its allies have in place against Syria, as a source
of this economic pain. The 2015 report describes steep declines in
electricity production throughout the war and attributes this in
part to how maintenance is undermined by the sanction that
prohibits the government from importing necessary parts and
equipment for generating stations.

Because of the war, Syria is now heavily dependent on imports


and these face barriers including sanctions on institutions, firms
and financial transactions and insurance among other things,
which has made it harder to import basic goods.

An earlier report from the same group, entitled The Syrian


Catastrophe, finds that international sanctions blocking the
import of lifesaving drugs, specialized modern medical equipment
and spare parts has contributed to the collapse of Syrias
healthcare system. The report also notes that sanctions on
finance helped bring about declines in manufacturing, real estate,
mining and exports.

None of this is to exculpate the Syrian government and its


partners for their role in forcing millions of Syrians from their
homes. The scholar Omar Dahi, while critical of the war crimes
and human rights abuses committed by opposition
groups, recounts the systematic and wholesale destruction of
entire towns and cities by the Syrian government and its allies.

The point, however, is that narratives about Syrian refugees that


omit the role played by the US and its proxies are incomplete.

Today, the US has been consigned to the sidelines of the ongoing


Syria negotiations. These talks are unlikely to bring an end to the
war in Syria on their own because they do not involve crucial
armed groups such as the Islamic State and Fatah al-Sham, the al-
Nusra rebrand. Accordingly, the violence will almost certainly
continue, leaving more Syrians dead and perhaps making more
Syrians refugees.

In America, the absolutely necessary actions being taken to


oppose Trumps restrictions on refugees need to be coupled with
demands that his administration lift the sanctions on Syria,
withdraw US soldiers and marines, stop bombing the country,
ensure that Israel does not do so again, dismantle the bases the
US has set up in Syria and refrain from measures that might
jeopardize the negotiations for peace in Syria.
Solidarity with Syrian refugees involves pushing for them to be
allowed into Western countries. It also has to involve political
organizing within the US and states allied with it to enable
conditions for peace and self-determination to take place in Syria
so that the refugees can eventually return home if they so
choose. For that to happen, the widespread notion that the US has
sat on the sidelines of the Syria war has to be quashed.

Dr. Greg Shupak is a writer and activist who teaches Media


Studies at the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
Posted by Thavam