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Russia’s intervention to support the Syrian government has set back U.S. plans for regime change. Credit: Larry Downing

Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Liberation Newspaper.

While the U.S. government is continuing its shameful support for the Israeli regime’s oppression of the Palestinians, it is targeting other peoples in the region. Having already overthrown the governments of Iraq and Libya, leading to the practical destruction of the countries, the U.S. militarists have  followed a similar script in Syria, just across Palestine’s northeast border, for the last four years.

But their plans have failed. They have succeeded at nothing except the breaking apart of Syria as a unitary nation. They have ironically strengthened the very sectarian extremist groups that the U.S. “War on Terror” claimed to be targeting, like al-Qaeda. They have set off a refugee crisis of enormous proportions, with over 11 million displaced people.

But the Syrian government did not collapse as predicted. The government retains considerable public support in key areas, especially among religious minorities and secular communities. The Syrian Arab Army has held together through years of brutal war. Large international players—Iran and Russia—have now come to the government’s defense with considerable firepower, and irreversibly changed the balance of power.

With their dreams of regime change going up in smoke, Washington has convened international summits to come up with a “political solution” for Syria. For the first time, they are including Iran in the discussion. There is no guarantee such discussions will be fruitful, and Washington may again reverse course if the war hawks in the administration—encouraged by the militarist presidential candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties—have their way. But for now, Washington—for the first time—is backing off their arrogant position that “Assad must go” as the first order of business in Syria.

Anti-imperialists the world over know that the United States government has no moral ground to stand on when it pretends to be a “peacemaker” in the Middle East. It is worth reviewing precisely what they did in Syria to get this point.

The dream of U.S. hegemony

For four years, the U.S. military supported and armed rebels in Syria for the purpose of regime change. The United States has long desired a hegemonic position in the strategically important Middle East, which requires states that will be loyal partners or servants of Washington. They already have that with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others.

But Syria had long been targeted for overthrow because of its independent character and its alliances with Palestinian resistance groups, the Lebanese resistance organization Hezbollah and Iran. U.S. strategists finally saw their opportunity in the instability of the Arab Spring.

Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, the U.S. government and its partners heavily backed armed reactionary groups, and fanned the flames of the bloody conflict.

Many participants in the initial Syrian protests raised legitimate grievances. Secular opposition forces opposed sectarianism, militarization of the conflict and all foreign intervention, and fought for economic and political reforms, sometimes successfully. But reactionary forces with longstanding roots in Syrian politics were also involved, and quickly received support from outside forces to spark the civil war. They have dominated the opposition ever since.

A CIA-coordinated operation kept many of these armed opposition groups well supplied, and regional powers were given free range to cultivate their own proxy forces, such as Saudi Arabia’s Army of Islam. The CIA even admits to being embedded with such groups. The most reactionary organizations, including ISIS and al-Nusra Front, easily transported recruits across the border with Turkey, a key U.S. ally and NATO member.

Based on questionable claims that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, in 2013, the United States and allied imperialist powers came within inches of carrying out air strikes against the Syrian government. They pulled back at the last moment, but continued their material assistance to the sectarian rebels. Many of those they supported, and much of the ammunition and weapons, ended up with al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The United States, along with many of its allies and -clients, began bombing ISIS in Syria last year, after the surprise ISIS offensive that captured a large part of Iraq. It was the reckless and colonial destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria as unitary states that allowed for ISIS to grow into a powerful force. Because U.S. air strikes could not defeat ISIS, they attempted to train and equip a 5,000-strong force of Syrian rebels. That also collapsed.

Adding to the chaos and confusion has been the U.S. policy towards Kurdish forces, which declared their autonomy early in the civil war. The Kurds’ militias have consistently and bravely fought against ISIS. But Turkey, a strategic U.S. ally, has bombed the Kurds, with U.S. acceptance, and objectively helped al-Qaeda and ISIS. Washington is sending more weapons to Kurdish-led groups, but there is no guarantee where the guns will end up, nor are these groups beholden to Washington’s interests.

It’s no wonder why the White House is toying with a new course of action. But history will not be kind to the Obama administration’s record in Syria. Alongside the war on Iraq, and the brutal sieges on the people of Gaza, the destruction of Syria will be marked as one of the great imperialist crimes of the 21st century.