October 6, 2015
Among the unified chorus of Western voices outraged about the Russian breach of Turkish airspace more than about the American bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan, it was surprising to see a headline at “The Independent” saying there is no moderate opposition in Syria. But, not to stray too far from the pack, the same article also claimed there are no good guys at all and the evil dictator Putin crushed a free and democratic Islamic uprising in Chechnya and put Putin’s methods in the same category with evil NATO and Assad. Surely, one could not publish the article with such claims without also mentioning that Putin is still a bad guy (who is fighting other bad guys).
However, the article drives home the point that the ‘moderate’ opposition exists only in the realm of Western media …
Syria’s ‘moderates’ have disappeared… and there are no good guys
Western confusion reigns while the Russians go for the jugular
The Russian air force in Syria has flown straight into the West’s fantasy air space. The Russians, we are now informed, are bombing the “moderates” in Syria – “moderates” whom even the Americans admitted two months ago, no longer existed.
“American officials” – those creatures beloved of The New York Times – claim that the Syrian army does not fight Isis. If true, who on earth killed the 56,000 Syrian soldiers – the statistic an official secret, but nonetheless true – who have so far died in the Syrian war? The preposterous Free Syrian Army (FSA)?
This rubbish has reached its crescendo in the on-again off-again saga of the Syrian “moderates”. These men were originally military defectors to the FSA, which America and European countries regarded as a possible pro-Western force to be used against the Syrian government army. But the FSA fell to pieces, corrupted, and the “moderates” defected all over again, this time to the Islamist Nusrah Front or to Isis, selling their American-supplied weapons to the highest bidder or merely retiring quietly – and wisely – to the countryside where they maintained a few scattered checkpoints.
Washington admitted their disappearance, bemoaned their fate, concluded that new “moderates” were required, persuaded the CIA to arm and train 70 fighters, and this summer packed them off across the Turkish border to fight – whereupon all but 10 were captured by Nusrah and at least two of them were executed by their captors. Just two weeks ago, I heard in person one of the most senior ex-US officers in Iraq – David Petraeus’s former No 2 in Baghdad – announce that the “moderates” had collapsed long ago. Now you see them – now you don’t.
But within hours of Russia’s air assaults last weekend, Washington, The New York Times, CNN, the poor old BBC and just about every newspaper in the Western world resurrected these ghosts and told us that the Russkies were bombing the brave “moderates” fighting Bashar’s army in Syria – the very “moderates” who, according to the same storyline from the very same sources a few weeks earlier, no longer existed. Our finest commentators and experts – always a dodgy phrase – joined in the same chorus line.
So now a few harsh factoids. The Syrian army are drawing up the operational target lists for the Russian air force. But Vladimir Putin has his own enemies in Syria.
The first strikes – far from being aimed at the “moderates” whom the US had long ago dismissed – were directed at the large number of Turkmen villages in the far north-west of Syria which have for many months been occupied by hundreds of Chechen fighters – the very same Chechens whom Putin had been trying to liquidate in Chechnya itself. These Chechen forces assaulted and destroyed Syria’s strategic hilltop military Position 451 north of Latakia last year. No wonder Bashar’s army put them on the target list.
Other strikes were directed not at Isis but at Islamist Jaish al-Shams force targets in the same area. But in the first 24 hours, Russian bombs were also dropped on the Isis supply line through the mountains above Palmyra.
The Russians specifically attacked desert roads around the town of Salamia – the same tracks used by Isis suicide convoys to defeat Syrian troops in the ancient Roman city of Palmyra last May.
They also bombed areas around Hassakeh and the Isis-held Raqqa air base where Syrian troops have fought Islamists over the past year (and were beheaded when they surrendered).
Russian ground troops, however, are in Syria only to guard their bases. These are symbolic boots on the ground – but the idea that those boots are there to fight Isis is a lie. The Russians intend to let the Syrian ground troops do the dying for them.
No, there are no good guys and bad guys in the Syrian war. The Russians don’t care about the innocents they kill any more than do the Syrian army or Nato. Any movie of the Syrian war should be entitled War Criminals Galore!
But for heaven’s sake, let’s stop fantasising. A few days ago, a White House spokesman even told us that Russian bombing “drives moderate elements… into the hands of extremists”.
Who’s writing this fiction? “Moderate elements” indeed…