What the Trump-Putin Summit Means for Syria (Pt 2/2)

New talk of US, Russian, and Israeli cooperation likely means a return to the status quo with the Assad regime in power, as Washington and Tel Aviv double down on targeting Iran and its proxies, says As’ad AbuKhalil

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. This is part two with Professor As’ad Abukhalil. He’s a professor of political science at California State University Stanislaus. His blog is the Angry Arab News Service. And we’re talking about, in the aftermath of the Trump-Putin summit, the implications for Israel, Syria and Iran, all of them right now heavily tangled up inside Syria.

So, Professor, you mentioned in part one the efforts by top-level U.S. officials to support militants with al-Qaeda fighting in Syria in an effort to put pressure and possibly lead to the overthrow of the Assad regime. And I’m curious then, in that light, your thoughts on the kind of talk we’ve seen over the past few days from some officials from back then, from that administration, when it comes to Trump and Putin’s summit.

Among them, John Brennan, who was the head of the CIA and extremely key to that program that armed Syrian rebels in Syria, and with U.S. weapons winding up in the hands of groups like al-Qaeda. He tweeted out that Trump’s press conference performance with Putin exceeds or exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors and was nothing short of treasonous. My colleague, Max Blumenthal, then pointed out on Twitter that Brennan should know something about that topic of high crimes, given that he helped arm al-Qaeda in Syria. And I’m wondering your thoughts on that point.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well I mean, I think that the United States and also Israel preferred the option of eternal instability in Syria. I think they wanted the entire region to be in turmoil and in constant bloodshed, very much like the position of Israel and America in the Iran-Iraq war which led to the deaths of one million people because they wanted it to drag on because they hated both sides. And of course, the Americans had the generosity and the sponsorship of Gulf regimes throwing money and cash with American support into the Syrian conflict. The same John Brennan, I should also point out, in the book, a recent book by Ben Rhodes, is cited saying that when the first Arab uprising began, and he’s supposedly a Middle East expert, he is cited in one of the meetings in the White House as saying that Arabs are not ready for democracy. So, everything stems from that.

I mean, these are people who hold the Arabs with such utter contempt. And from that you can analyze all their stances and positions. But what was fascinating to me in the last twenty-four hours is that it has been proven that America’s government structure, especially in national security and foreign policy, is really an empire and not a regular democratic political system. What I mean by that is we have seen the unelected and really rarely or slightly accountable intelligence agency have much more say and power than an elected U.S. president. They basically were able to force the U.S. president to come out and to reverse themselves from a few hours ago and to change the words he used in describing his position on his high confidence in intelligence agencies.

And not just how the media, which prides themselves on being critical when it comes to the statements and utterances of Trump, which of course is right, I mean they should always be skeptical about statements by all presidents of the United States, but they never exercise such scrutiny and caution and critical standards when applying to whatever they receive without any question from U.S. intelligence agencies. They believe it en masse, just as they believed the lies and fabrication about Iraqi WMDs, just as they believe all the elements of this Russian conspiracy. And we are told that we have to trust the view of the intelligence agency, or three out of the seventeen, I should point out, because they have a “high level of confidence.” I mean, that sentence doesn’t sound that much reliable to me.

I mean, imagine if somebody were to tell the person he or she loves that, “I have a high level of confidence that I love you.” I mean, that doesn’t sound something that is reassuring and it shouldn’t reassure the media or the American public that just because intelligence agencies leaked their inclination, it should be believed, especially given their really long record of falsification and fabrication.

AARON MATE: Right. So, getting back to Syria, the record of Russia inside Syria has been a big topic around coverage of the Trump-Putin summit because critics of it decry Trump for not sufficiently confronting Putin, the prevailing critique goes, for civilian killings inside Syria and for what is said to be Russia’s destabilizing role there. And I wonder if you could speak to that, because certainly, there’s no doubt that Russia backing the Assad regime has killed an extremely large number of civilians, inflicted massive suffering. But I’m wondering, at the same time, we’ve been talking about the U.S. role in destabilizing Syria, and those who defend the Russian role there will argue that it was Russia’s intervention that prevented al-Qaeda from essentially overrunning Damascus. Do you think that that’s an accurate characterization?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, I think what you said is true. I mean, nobody who cares about the Syrian people would deny that the Syrian regime is certainly responsible for the deaths of civilians in Syria. Certainly, also it cannot be denied that Syrian rebels, the variety of Syrian rebels from the so-called “secular,” which often committed really bad crimes, they started the kidnapping and so on. And to the ones that are very much ISIS and the like and the bin Ladenites, they also are responsible for the killing of civilians and injury of civilians in Syria. So, that is also true. The Russian government, in its intervention, is also responsible for killing civilians, just as the U.S. intervention.

Just recently, The Independent of England published a new assessment in which it is revealed that since its intervention in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. is responsible for at least six thousand civilians killed. I mean, look at Raqqa, one of the most brutal chapters of a very brutal war, the Syrian war, is probably the devastation, almost incineration of Raqqa at the hand of U.S. bombers. I mean, this is why there has not been many media trips to Raqqa, because the story there is so much against the advantage of propaganda of the U.S. government, which always intervenes on behalf of victims everywhere around the world.

As far as the Russian government is concerned, I think that it is absolutely true that Russia, as America, has been reckless in its bombing in Syria. And of course, they care less about the Syrian people in their intervention. They have their own strategic calculations about its role in the world. They are trying to get back at the United States since U.S. Security Council Resolution 1973, in which the United States took it upon itself and NATO to overthrow the government of Libya and to bring- I mean, talk about worse scenarios. Look what’s happened in Libya today. If you talk to Libyan people, they would say as bas as the Libyan government was under Gaddafi, as brutal, nothing is worse than what we have now.

I mean, that’s the record of U.S. when they overthrow governments, of course, everywhere in the world. The Russian government, in its war in Syria, probably has been more effective against ISIS, especially the smuggling of oil in the north, which was a major asset for ISIS infrastructure, than the American. I mean, the American of course, always come last and they always take the credit and they fly the flag to take credit of whatever happened by either side. I mean, there are many sides that fought ISIS in Syria. In America, they only see those that are allies of the U.S. who fought Syria. But I think probably the ones who are foes of the United States have been more effective against ISIS.

AARON MATE: So, finally, let me ask you, going back to Iran and whether or not Russia could assist the U.S. and Israeli effort, which is very apparent to destabilize Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Do you foresee Putin enlisting in this effort, especially because right now there are growing ties between Russia and Iran. There was just a report that Russia is preparing to spend billions of dollars to invest in Iran’s energy industry.

And part of the reason why Iran would need Russian money is because you have Europeans pulling out of it because of the new sanctions reimposed by the U.S., by Trump, for breaking the Iran deal. So, in that respect, Trump’s actions pushing Iran and Russia closer together. So, will this alliance that Trump claims to exist between himself and Putin and Netanyahu, talking about how Putin is a friend of Israel, will that translate into real concrete Russian help against Iran?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, Russia has been helpful to Israel. Russia has been helpful simultaneously to the Syrian regime and also to Israel. They have basically allowed Israel to bomb at will throughout Syria without any intervention or any attempt to even restrain Israeli aggression. That’s very true. But also, we should be careful about the ties between Iran and Russia because there are still frictions. You noted about the issue, announcement of the investment. The issue of the fifty billion dollar investment was made by Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister, now adviser to the supreme leader upon visiting Russia. But within a day, a Russian government source denied that there was any agreement and disputed that number. There is nothing concrete.

Will the Russians restrain Iran in Syria? I am sure the Iranians, if they are to retreat from Syria altogether or partially, They’re going to extract the price in return. They are not going to do that for free. But the notion that the Israelis or the Russians are going to be able to interrupt lines of support from Iran, through Iraq and Syria all the way to Hezbollah, is a fantasy. It’s not going to happen under the most difficult circumstances of the war, the line of supply continued and Hezbollah was fighting, really, not so much for the Syrian regime, which is its ally, or recent ally in recent years because there was a history of enmity between them, but also for the supply line for their own survival as a potent military organization standing against Israeli aggression and occupation.

AARON MATE: So, on that front, let me ask you quickly. If Israel did not constantly threaten Hezbollah, and given its long record inside Lebanon of both destabilization and the direct invasion and occupation killing tens of thousands of people, so, if Israel didn’t pose a threat constantly to Hezbollah and if Iran did not feel under threat-.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Israel poses a threat to all of Lebanon, not only to Hezbollah.

AARON MATE: Right. But if Hezbollah did not feel threatened by Israel, and if Iran did not are threatened by both Israel and the U.S., do you think that there would be this, that Iran and Hezbollah would be so interested and so concerned with maintaining that supply line in Syria and would actually- you know, let me ask you. Would they even have gotten involved in Syria in the first place?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Of course not. And the thing is, you have to remember. Look, I am from South Lebanon and Hezbollah came into being in the mid 1980s. Before that, there was no Hezbollah. There were largely Palestinian and Lebanese secular left-wing, many communist groups that were embarking on resisting Israeli aggression and occupation. They were never as effective, I mean, amazingly effective against Israel as Hezbollah has been, especially in July war of 2006, but the idea that we should defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression has been championed by all the people of the region in Lebanon, South Lebanon, especially when the Lebanese state, before independence, before the war, all the way until now, deliberately shirks its responsibility from defending Lebanon under pressure from Americans, primarily.

The United States does not want Lebanon to have an effective army. I mean, this is what America and Western Europe wants from Lebanon. They basically want them not to have any effective army, not to have any serious weapons that can challenge Israeli violation of air space and territory. And at the same time, they want them to disarm Hezbollah. So, they want Lebanon to become what it was in the 1960s, which was a small state that has no sovereignty whatsoever, in which Israel can come to invade and kill and commit massacres without any response from anybody in Lebanon. Those days are far behind us, and the idea that America and Israel are going to return Lebanon to those days is a fantasy. It is not going to happen no matter what they do. I mean, can they do more? Can they do worse than what they did in the July war, in which there was such massive, indiscriminate bombing and destruction all over Lebanon? They can’t do more than that.

And not only they did not break the will of the Lebanese resistance in Lebanon, but they were not even able to preserve the image and the honor of the Israeli occupation army. I mean, they were humiliated in the battlefield. This was the biggest strategic loss of Israel. And this is why Israel, why it engages in bombast about what it plans to do. And it makes threats against Lebanese civilians on a regular weekly basis. But they will think twice and thrice before they ever launch a war in Lebanon because they are scared. It’s Not like before. This is a major deterrent. In 2006, they were humiliated in a way that they were never humiliated at the hand of any Arab army since 1948. For that reason, we have to distinguish between Israeli planning and Israeli bombast. Lebanese distinguish between the two.

AARON MATE: Right. And that all might help explain why Israel has been so focused on Gaza, because there have been multiple ceasefires that have worked, so deterring rockets is not a credible justification in my opinion. Perhaps the focus has been on Gaza in part because Gaza cannot fight back, unlike Hezbollah.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, both have fought back very well, to the credit to the Palestinians in Gaza. In 2014, they fought extremely effectively in a way that was unprecedented. And the Israelis-

AARON MATE: After Israel invaded, after Israel launched a ground invasion.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, of course. I mean, they don’t have missiles against their planes and so on, for sure. But now the Israelis are making a big fuss and we hear about that in Congress today, about those “new weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of Palestinians. Of course, we’re talking about kites and ballons, which pose a mortal threat to the occupation state of Israel.

AARON MATE: Professor Abukhalil, I feel like we could go on forever, so let’s stop there but pick this up another time, because we really appreciate you taking the time on this tour of vital context to understanding the current discussion when it comes to Putin and Trump meeing, and their potential accommodation in Syria, and how Iran and Israel fit in.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you very much.

AARON MATE: Professor As’ad Abukhalil, he’s a professor of politicical science at California State University Stanislaus. His blog is the Angry Arab News Service. Thank you.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you very much.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.