Originally appeared at Washingtonsblog
On Wednesday November 18th, a Defense Department spokesman at a Pentagon press briefing was repeatedly asked by reporters whether there is any possibility of the U.S. working with Russia to defeat jihadists in Syria. And the answer was clearly no, each time:
Q: Is the U.S. military leadership there — either there or here in the Pentagon, as far as you know — prepared to fly side-by-side with the Russians.
COL. Steve WARREN: … We right now have no plans to conduct coordinated operations with the Russians.
Q: Actually working together in combat flight operations, side-by-side with the Russians at this point?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, we’re — right now, we have no plans to do that. … We’re not coordinating with the Russians, we’re not conducting operations with the Russians, nor are we planning to do any of those things.
Colonel Warren went further, to denigrate Russia’s military capabilities:
As you noted, you know, the Russians are using dumb bombs. Their history has been both reckless and irresponsible. You know, I know there was some discussion that the Russians had a large air armada flying into Raqqa to conduct these operations. And it was notable to us that, you know, those are antiquated tactics. We don’t even use those type of tactics anymore. The idea of putting, you know, ten ships in the air at one time, or 12 or even more, are very old fashioned. And those are the type of tactics needed only if you don’t possess the technology, the skills and the capabilities to conduct the type of precision strikes that our coalition conducts.
During another Pentagon press briefing, the day before, spokesman Peter Cook had similarly been asked, “The U.S. and Russia have a common enemy in Syria in the form of ISIL, so why is it so difficult for — to find an area where there’s a common goal and to work together?” Mr. Cook said: “Up to this point the Russian actions have been largely in support of the Assad regime which we believe is counterproductive to the end result of trying to end the Syrian civil war. It has been like pouring gasoline on the fire, in the words of Secretary Carter.”
When asked whether there are “any additional thoughts toward cooperating more with Russia?” he replied: “We are not cooperating with Russia, as you know. … and there’s been no additional talk of further cooperation or — or coordination with the Russians. … Their policies of supporting the Assad regime continue, in our view, to be counterproductive — ‘backwards’ is the word that the secretary has used. And so until they alter that policy, we don’t see much of an area for — for further cooperation.”
In other words: The United States demands Russia’s assurance that Assad will be removed from power, or else the U.S. will provide whatever assistance is necessary to bring to power in Syria whatever jihadists can do the job of removing him, because his non-sectarian and decidedly secular government is “pouring gasoline on the fire” there, and because it is “backwards,” not forward-looking, like a Syrian government controlled by U.S-approved jihadists would be.
Although all polls, even Western-sponsored ones, in Syria, show that Bashar al-Assad would easily win any free and fair election in Syria, the U.S. government demands his removal, before there can be any cooperation with Russia’s war against jihadists in Syria.
All of the groups that are fighting to remove Assad are Sunni groups, and not just Sunnis but very religious Sunnis; and, so, if they succeed in overthrowing him, then there will be a jihadist state in Syria, because all jihadists are Sunnis, and the Sunnis who are waging war against the secular Shiite Assad are all jihadist Sunnis — that’s what they are fighting for there: a Sunni Sharia law state. The non-religious government would be replaced by a Sunni Sharia law government. This is what the United States is actually demanding — and selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to the fundamentalist Sunni Saudi government in order to use not only in Syria but in Yemen to slaughter Shiites in those countries.
The efforts of French President Francois Hollande to bring together a France-U.S.-Russia coalition against the jihadists, cannot succeed unless either the U.S. drops its demand for Assad to be removed from power, or Russia drops its insistence upon killing not only the jihadist groups that the U.S. opposes, but the jihadist groups that the U.S. supports in Syria.
America’s insistence upon supporting “moderate” jihadists to replace the current Syrian government is unlikely to draw Russia’s support. And Russia’s insistence that only a free and fair internationally overseen election among the Syrian citizenry should decide whether he remains in power, is equally unlikely to draw America’s support (since it would produce a continuation of Assad’s government there).
France’s military effort in Syria will therefore ultimately be on either the U.S. side or the Russian side; it’s highly unlikely to be able to be on the side of both.
France will therefore become compelled to choose between being allied with the United States, as it is and has been, or else being allied with Russia, which would constitute a major break away from the current alignment of world powers.
In other words: Is France, just as its ally the U.S. is, more concerned to remove Assad from power, than it is to kill all of the jihadists — and all of them are Sunnis — regardless of whether a particular jihadist group happens to enjoy the support of the U.S.? That is the question, which only Francois Hollande will answer.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.