The Trump administration has a new plan for the war in Syria, Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast, and it’s the same as the old one: bomb the hell out of the Islamic State and other extremists while not just leaving the greatest purveyor of violence there alone, but treating it as a de facto partner.
This is, for those following along, broadly the same plan that the previous U.S. administration pursued. Despite the Assad regime crossing President Barack Obama’s self-imposed “red line” in 2013, it wasn’t until a year later that the U.S. bombs began falling — on the Islamic State and other extremists. The hereditary dictator and his forces were spared, and not for a lack of humanitarian justification, but because U.S. foreign policy elites had long before decided that a change in regime posed the greatest threat to perceived U.S. interests.
Leftists who embraced realists’ perverted version of anti-imperialism — support for dictators in the name of stability, not just when threatened by Western invasions but in the face of popular uprisings — overlooked this thematically inconvenient war on terror and the new president’s repeated desire to escalate it. As late as last fall left-liberal pundits were continuing to gravely warn of a coming war, portraying better informed critics of the regime-change storyline as the warmongers even as they ignored the thousands of U.S. airstrikes those purported warmongers decried. The latter’s crime was decrying Syrian and Russian airstrikes, too, which is well established as the road to World War III.
This was all very strange because, even before Trump, the Obama administration was desperately seeking an arrangement with Russia in Syria whereby both imperial powers would not just bomb the same country, but do it together, as allies, a plan welcomed by the Syrian regime. That put some in an awkward place for they had already agreed that Damascus had a right to accept such military assistance, the product not of principled anti-imperialist thinking, obviously, but of a degenerated segment of the left seeking to rationalize extensive Russian and Iranian intervention.
Trump and his new, old plan expose the pitfalls of left-wing rationalizations for imperialism that rely on a reactionary argument that a state, no matter how undemocratic, has the right to kill whom it chooses within its imperialist-drawn borders. The plan is: handing off never-ending peace talks to Russia while jointly administering “safe zones” in Syria that would be safe primarily, in theory, because both would agree not to bomb them. Though The Daily Beast implies this is new clarity in the wake of a confused Syria policy from the administration, it’s really not if one considers Trump’s airstrike on an empty airbase to have been the product of his lust for one-upping Obama; this far into the U.S. regime’s tenure, one can’t deny the power of ego, within the limits imposed by the generals to whom war-making power has largely been ceded.
A senior official speaking to The Daily Beast argued as much, saying the new-old plan reflected continuity and would simply build off existing U.S.-Russia cooperation, the logical progression of the war on terror that expanded to Syria under Obama, who himself ended his term in office seeking such an arrangement. The lethal potential of imperialist collusion, unleashed, is one thing critics of what’s come to be known as This Russia Stuff have missed: that Louise Mensch starting World War III between these two major powers has always been dramatically less likely than those two powers agreeing to collude, for the sake of peace, in a war on those who have neither nuclear weapons nor an air force.
As for the regime, as long as it’s willing to support the U.S.-Russia war on terror then the Trump administration — echoing non-interventionists like Henry Kissinger — is willing to let past and sometimes present rhetoric remain just that. “Of course that’s our policy,” a White House official told The Daily Beast. “I don’t see how you could follow what we’ve done and not come away with [that] conclusion.”
Perhaps it’s time those who concluded otherwise to consider that they concluded wrong. Point-scoring and owns are all good and zesty fun — yes, I told you so, but it’s no big deal — the aim of intra-left criticism is achieving better left-wing politics. A dumb liberal may believe that Putin and Trump are lovers, but what ought matter to a leftist is that they are reactionaries working in concert to impose an imperialist peace through war on Syria. If we can agree that all right-wing authoritarians should keep their hands off the Middle East, there’s no reason leftists can’t join hand in hand at the antiwar march from the Russian embassy to the White House.