Eerie parallels with U.S.-led war in Syria should worry Ukrainians

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — The devastating earthquakes that rocked Turkey and Syria also drew attention back to someone who had all but vanished from the Western press, despite previously dominating its headlines. Syrian President Bachar al-Assad was once the top target of neoconservative regime change. But now, no one seems to care that Assad is still in charge as Washington announced a 180-day exemption to its sanctions against Syria for humanitarian relief, notably in the Western-backed northwest region.

“We must recognise that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo,” said former President Barack Obama to the United Nations in 2015, suggesting that Assad had to go. François Hollande, then President of France, echoed the notion, underscoring that “the route to a solution does not go through Bashar al-Assad.”

Boris Johnson — then Britain’s foreign secretary — said that “the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power.”

The statements sound a lot like the “Ukraine must win” rhetoric that we hear from Western leaders nowadays.

And yet all the war and suffering in Syria came to a crashing halt when former President Donald Trump had the sense to simply declare that it was the end of the road for the U.S. in Syria — much to the upset of the Pentagon and Defense Secretary James Mattis who resigned over it. Now, Assad is still in power, and virtually no one ever talks about Syria or Assad anymore. All the bloodshed by the Syrian people as a result of their country being targeted for Western-style “liberation” is conveniently ignored.

The Syrian war and the current conflict in Ukraine have an awful lot in common that should make the Ukrainian people nervous.

In both cases, the conflicts were sparked by the covert training and equipping of Western-backed fighters. The “Syrian rebels” were funded and trained by the CIA and Pentagon in an attempt to overthrow Assad, who had long resisted kowtowing to the interests of Washington or its allies.

And those interests were numerous, including taking a key Russian and Iranian ally off the chessboard. Former French intelligence chief, Alain Juillet, has also suggested that the jihadist problems which served as a pretext for Washington to intervene in Syria, just happened to arise three weeks after Assad opted for the development of an Iranian-Iraqi pipeline to send natural gas to Europe through Syria rather than an alternative Saudi-Qatari pipeline.

Russia’s only Mediterranean port and base, Tartus, just happened to also be located in Syria. And when the Saudi-backed ISIS fighters and U.S.-backed “rebels” got too close to the base for comfort, Moscow entered the conflict backed by Assad’s express invitation to assist Syrian troops in clearing out the various jihadists.

And much like the Syrian conflict that didn’t just emerge spontaneously overnight, none other than NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pointed out earlier this month that the Western buildup against Russia in Ukraine was a long time coming, reminding that “the war didn’t start in February last year. The war started in 2014. And since 2014, NATO allies have provided support to Ukraine, with training, with equipment.”

Both former French President François Hollande and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said that the Minsk Accords for peace in Ukraine were used by the West to buy time to better equip Kyiv militarily against Russia.

In the cases of both Syria and Ukraine, Western backed non-state actors ran the risk of being perceived as ideological threats. Western-trained Syrian rebels became indistinguishable from jihadists, with Foreign Policy magazine reporting in 2017 that Al-Qaida had virtually swallowed the Syrian opposition by the war’s sixth year.

In Ukraine, problematic fighters were ultimately folded into the country’s armed forces. “Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine produced a briefing on the Azov Battalion, acknowledging its links to Nazi ideology,” but trained them anyway, reported the Ottawa Citizen in November 2021.

In both instances, Russia reacted militarily when it perceived an existential, Western-backed threat to its interests in its own backyard. At some point, as with every other recent foreign intervention from

Afghanistan to Libya, Washington has simply cut its losses and moved on.

Anyone who thinks that the bipartisan neoconservative interventionists in the U.S. don’t already have everything they wanted and more from the Ukraine conflict is kidding themselves. Leaving aside the massive profits scored by the military industrial complex, Washington also managed to convince Europe to switch out its reliance on Russian gas for a much more expensive dependence on American gas. As a result, Europe is now weakened as a top competitor on the global stage to the ultimate benefit of the U.S. as European companies even consider moving to the U.S. where energy is more plentiful and far less expensive. In the melée, as an added bonus, Washington has even managed to convince Europe to treat the bloc’s main trading partner, China, like it was toxic — in favor of more reliance on Washington and its closest allies, of course. The biggest losers in all this are the citizens who are forced to abide by the harebrained decisions of their leaders, driven more often than not by special interests.

If Ukrainians aren’t concerned about all of these parallels, they should be. Syrians have seen this movie — and it’s a harrowing documentary, not a fantasy with a happy ending.