Syria once again fulfills its function of battleground and release-valve for global conflicts
Progressive hope for Biden’s presidency has been revealed to be a short-lived post-Trump illusion. The Biden-Harris administration’s first month in office culminated in what POTUS justified as “self defence”: targeted bombings in Syria aiming to punish militias sympathetic to, or allied with Iran for having clashed with the continuing US military presence in Iraq. Shia militias Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq announced an ultimatum: they will target US military bases until they exit Iraq. The world’s major superpower does not take kindly to ultimatums.
Biden did not only ambush Shia militias: he also mousetrapped his own constituents in the US United States Congress. Progressive California congressman Ro Khanna, long-standing opponent of US interventionism in Syria, decried the unconstitutional act. According to the antiwar organisation “Win Without War,” four successive US presidents have abused the congressional national security authorisations (AUMFs) passed after 9/11.
Biden campaigned on the appeal of a post-Trump adrenaline-reduction — a few uneventful, breather-years for North Americans. But last Friday’s sudden rogue gesture seemed a dress rehearsal of Trump-era antics, supervening US Congress before undertaking drastic, bellicose operations.
Flippantly, Biden explained the anti-Constitutional killing of 22 in Syria as a national emergency, after conflagrations between the continuous US occupying forces in Iraq and local, Iran-linked militias killed a US private defence contractor in Erbil, a Kurdish capital.
Despite sane indignation from exceptional figures like Ro Khanna — who stands out in contrast to the sadly no-longer surprising silence of progressive figurehead Alexandria Ocasio Cortéz — little debate ensued as to why US forces are still in Iraq. Cortéz’ twitter-feed, as well as her “offline” activity during recent bombings kept to domestic issues such as the stimulus checks debacle, suggesting that Democrat progressives, after capitulating to the Biden-Clintonite establishment, largely remain cautious not to be falsely associated with Assadism, Venezuela or other convenient bugbears.
An easy justification would be the need to monitor whether Isil is about to crawl back out of the crevices — Daesh extremist propaganda still thrives. But Iraqi parliament, sovereign only in name, has decided it does not need or want an armed US presence. The Iraqi judiciary has meanwhile issued an arrest warrant for al-Askari, an Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah member who threatened the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Apparently, the Iraqi authorities’ confidence that they can handle the problem of Kata’ib has alarmed those with vested interests in continuous US defense-contracting in Mesopotamia.
Official visits by Iranian officials like Qasem Soleimani had seemed part of a reconciliation process toward welcome cooperation between the two neighbouring countries that once waged the long Iran-Iraq war. Sparked by US-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s US-backed invasion, it redefined the 1980s as “the Middle Eastern World War 1”.
By 2020, US operatives in Iraq seemed ever more anachronistic, after the infamy of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo’s drone-assassination of Qasem Soleimani
Here’s a case of foreign policy déjà vu: after the Soleimani death-spectacle, Trump similarly announced American forces in Iraq will not timidly accept “bullying” or being “pushed around” by local rascals on territory Washington vowed to disentangle itself from for over a decade.
Biden didn’t ostentatiously tweet American flags moments after the strikes — yet such symbolic differences are but matters of taste. Most significant among otherwise minor distinctions between Biden’s volatile, convoluted action, and the Trump-Pompeo-Soleimani hatchet job, is the current lack of widespread indignation and shock among those who so vociferously repudiated Trump.
The Soleimani assassination unleashed a wave of partisan outpourings from US intelligentsia and the online commentariat; those unfamiliar with General Soleimani’s career, or his role in quelling Isil while countering Sunni regimes’ designs in the region. An uncanny symmetry emerged then: on one side, weeping masses gathered in public squares of Tehran and Isfahan, piously erecting banners of Soleimani in an afterlife embrace of the face-veiled Hidden Imam in an official, State-sponsored and Mullah-led beatification of the brutally murdered general. Juxtapose these to the Western outcry — slightly more reserved, more online, more angry than mournful, yet of a still perplexing intensity, especially given the fact that few Americans holding the unofficial wake for Soleimani knew who he was, or understood his real significance.
Compare the January 2020 mobilisations to now: Biden’s ambush merely caused a stunned, muffled confusion, though it similarly darkens prospects of either a lasting defeat of Isil pockets, or future revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) nuclear deal.
It is no accident if Biden’s latest move resembles a tipping of the hat towards the Trump legacy
It is as if the Democrats’ obsessive hatred of Trump became appropriative, warping them into becoming him, the way ancient cannibalistic rituals of the Scythians were believed to lead the eater into acquiring traits of a devoured rival.
Biden’s campaign was driven only partly on electorates’ justified fear of Trump, and the rational capitulation among young progressives, who swallowed Biden’s continuing ill treatment of Bernie Sanders, toward a common goal of displacing Trump. Bernie Sanders, in turn, invoked baseless fantasies about Biden’s potentially becoming “another Roosevelt administration” conceding to dreams of Green New Deal democrats despite Biden’s every sworn statement refuting this.
Biden, to borrow Elizabeth Warren’s grotesque self-identification, is a “capitalist to the bones”: his strategy for countering Trump 2024 therefore includes competitively emulating the Trump-brand. A lawyer trained at Syracuse university, while boxing with then-adversary Kamala Harris Biden thundered in the 2019 primary debates: “fact of the matter is, that people who cross the border commit a crime!” He knows full well that illegal immigration breaches civil, and not criminal law. Recently, Biden has reopened Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ Texan child-detention facilities, reducing the waiting time before family reunification, while maintaining the same procedure and site–a reform of Trump-Sessions’ policies, giving them softer edges and prompt efficiency. Perhaps this recalls how when Barack Obama had Biden as VP, instead of realising promises to close Guantánamo Bay’s transnational prison, the Obama-Biden administration simply ushered in technocratic reforms of the barracks, diluting Bush policies without breaking them.
Half a century as a Washington insider perhaps leads a politician to believing his own lies — that embarrassing yarn about having been arrested “on the streets of Soweto” while trying to visit Nelson Mandela not even being the most flagrant. As President, Biden’s latest mendacious assertion is that, as a necessary kind of performative “Realpolitik”, the way to coax Trump supporters (especially those who have defected from the Democratic Party) is not by distancing oneself from the now deeply unpopular neoliberal ideology, but rather, by imitating Trump’s most reactionary antics, to recapture voters who once fell for the “Trump appeal”.
In reality, Biden only satisfies donors in a military industrial complex who fear any notion of Middle East stability
The Syria attack came as a reassurance to Riyadh after the frosting of relations with Prince bin Salman, whom leading Democrats still consider a vital ally, client and cornerstone of the US economy despite Biden’s now hollow-ringing vow to make MBS into the “pariah he already is.”
Syria fulfills the function of battleground and release-valve for tensions and conflicts between both regional and global powers, as these send each other threatening messages. It is entangled in a war where the only rule is to confine the chaos within “the ring,” the contained devastation of the Syrian arena.
All of this risks sacrificing what may have been not the Obama-era’s “greatest” so much as its sole major diplomacy achievement, the JCPoA. Restoring it requires the trust of Iranian officials, and, far more importantly than the mullahs, the trust of an Iranian people. Washington instead opted for the aim of keeping the enemy (as well as sometimes-allies) in perpetual uncertainty, which defines the very aim of strategic terrorism.
The question for now is whether progressives find the stamina to treat Joe Biden with the same mobilisations of uproar and disobedience with which we once treated George W. and Donald J. DiEM25’s activists in Europe must reach out to other social anti-war movements and exert heat on EU politicians to not take Biden’s example. We must instead exert pressure towards a return to the nuclear deal with greater coherence than Washington’s.
DiEM25’s growing numbers engaged in foreign policy must also take the EU establishment to task for having ceded ground to Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions-and-threat campaigns. Hopefully DiEM’s Peace and International Policy group will start making its ripple towards this effect, in our upcoming virtual anti-conference held in parallel to the 2021 Munich Security Conference “Special Edition”.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.
Photo Source: DVIDSHUB on Flickr.
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