By Eric Zuesse
Because of the US Government’s repeated threats to start World War III against Russia on Syrian territory if Russia will assist Syria’s Government to eliminate the jihadists who control Syria’s Idlib province, Russia’s Government agreed, on September 17th, with Turkey’s Government, that Turkey’s Government will control Idlib, which is Syria’s most jihadist-friendly province.
Consequently, the threatened US-and-allied bombing campaign to overthrow Syria’s Government and replace it with one that would be controlled by the royal family of Saudi Arabia (the Sauds) has been placed on hold, because such a bombing campaign would now mean the US going to war against not only Syria’s Government and Russia’s Government and Iran’s Government, but also against Turkey’s Government, which is a NATO member and (because of its location) has been an essential part of the American Empire.
Turkey is thus now balanced on a knife’s edge, between the US and its allies (representing the Saud family) on the one side, versus Russia and its allies (representing the anti-Saud alliance) on the other.
Historically, the Sauds have competed against the Turkish Government for leadership of the world’s Muslims. Gradually, the Sauds came to ally themselves first with the British Empire, and then with the rising American Empire, which two Empires merged into one right after World War II.
Turkey was the head of the Ottoman Empire — that was actually the Turkish empire — and Turkey became defeated in World War I by the British side, including the leader of the Saud family. As a result of the epoch-making September 17th agreement about Idlib, Turkey, which for nearly a hundred years was an important ally of America, no longer is a US ally, but is vacillating between alliance with Russia, versus alliance with the US
The Historical Background
Some historical background is helpful for understanding where we’re coming from, and where we are heading to, here:
In 1830, “The Great Game” started, in which the British Empire unsuccessfully tried to colonize Afghanistan next door to the world’s most natural-resources-rich land, Russia, but Britain gave up in defeat in 1895, and therefore Afghanistan remained neutral.
As British historian Martin Ewans wrote in his 2002 Afghanistan: A Short History (p. 12), “Although never colonized, Afghanistan is part of the colonial history of Tzarist Russia and British India, with a strategic importance that in 1884 brought the two empires to the brink of war.” Ewens indicated (p. 66) that Russia’s opposition to Britain’s colonizing Afghanistan was based upon Russians’ fear that Britain would use the fundamentalist-Sunni Afghans as proxy boots-on-the-ground to spread into and take over parts of Russia.
John David Blom’s March 2009 “The Decline of Anglo-Saudi Relations” noted (p. 7) that, “The major areas of British imperialism in the Middle East during the nineteenth century were the Ottoman and Persian Empires, the Trucial states along the Persian Gulf, Aden, Oman, and Egypt. The Ottoman and Persian Empire provided a buffer against Russian expansion south.” Furthermore, Blom observed (p. 11) that after the Saud family came to recognize that in order for them to dominate against the Ottoman Turks for control over the Islamic world, “The Anglo-Saudi Treaty of 1915 recognized Ibn Saud’s position as ruler of Najd, El Hassa, Qatif and Jubail. It guaranteed British protection of these regions in exchange for control of Ibn Saud’s foreign policy.” Of course, the defeat of Turkey was the real focus of that, otherwise called Treaty of Darin. But the decline of Anglo-Saudi relations was merely the opposite end of the rise of US-Saudi relations. After WW I, this British alliance with the Sauds was effectively taken over on 23 May 1933 by Standard Oil of California (a Rockefeller oil company, now called Chevron) when the existing oil-discoveries in Saudi Arabia failed to excite British and European investors sufficiently. Three years later, Texaco joined SoCal. Then, in 1938, these American drillers made the first big oil-strike in Saudi Arabia. In 1943, the company became renamed Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), and the previous British Empire now effectively became the American Empire. The alliance between the Saud family and the US aristocracy has remained solid ever since.
Further contributing to the Sauds’ increasing reliance upon the US aristocracy instead of upon the British aristocracy, has been this: In The West at the end of the 1800s, the British Empire adopted the British mining-magnate Cecil Rhodes’s plan for their Empire to become joined with the soaring new American Empire, which combination during World War I won against the then-soaring German Empire (and against its allied Japanese and Italian Empires) and then won against Germany yet again in WW II, this time because Russia and its Soviet allies basically conquered the Germans in the east. The US, emerging then essentially unscarred from WW II which had devastated all of America’s allies in that war, became, more clearly than ever, the Saud family’s winning horse, to carry them closer to final victory.
In the 1915 Treaty of Darin, between the United Kingdom and Abdul-Aziz al-Saud (sometimes called Ibn Saud, who then led only part of what subsequently became the larger Saudi Arabia) both parties agreed that Saud would join UK’s war to conquer (Ottoman-led) Turkey; and that, in return, the British Empire (UK) would protect and defend the Saud family’s imposed rule, anywhere that it might become challenged.
Turkey’s Government was thus conquered, and then it ended its moderate-Islamist Ottoman Empire, after Turkey’s participation on Germany’s side in WW I produced General Ataturk’s creation of the secular Turkish state in 1923, and the end of the Turkish Caliphate the following year. Ataturk created a Turkey whose laws were almost completely independent of the Quran.
However, after the success of the US-Saudi war against Russia in 1979 by means of spreading Wahhabist and other fundamentalist-Sunni mosques and especially funding and creating mujahideen, Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ultimately ISIS fighters, all against Russia and against Russia’s ally Iran — that is, against the two countries which the Sauds and America’s aristocracy are the most determined to conquer — the Islamist Tayyip Erdogan in 2003 rose finally to power in Turkey, so as to support that US-Saudi cause, against Russia, and against Iran.
Turkey, of course, is on Syria’s northern border. The accession to power of an Islamist leader of Turkey constituted a disastrous turn against the adjoining Syria, which country now was almost completely surrounded by hostile governments (controlled by fundamentalist Sunnis, except Israel, which is controlled by fundamentalist Jews). Erdogan was very much America’s leader of Turkey.
However, the US aristocracy wanted Fethullah Gülen, who was even more dependent upon the US, to take over Turkey. So, on 15 July 2016, a US-NATO-backed coup-attempt to replace Erdogan by Gulen occurred and failed. It failed because Russia’s Putin informed Erdogan in time to save Erdogan’s life. This did not, however, turn Turkey immediately and 100% against America’s aristocracy, but it certainly did start that. This is the reason why Russia’s Astana Peace Process to settle and end the war in Syria includes Russia, Iran, and Turkey — and not US, Saudi Arabia, or any other outright enemies of Russia and of Iran.
America’s CIA has actually been trying ever since 1949 to place the Middle East’s only committedly anti-sectarian, pro-secular, nation, Syria, under the control of the fundamentalist-Sunni Saud family, who own Saudi Arabia and cooperate with US oil companies.
The Recent Background of the September 17th Agreement on Idlib
That brings us to the U.S-Saudi-Israeli war against Syria, which is called by the aggressors ‘the Syrian civil war’ in order to blame it against Assad instead of against themselves.
Early in this invasion of Syria, Turkey was a leading participant, and provided pathways both for international jihadists — all of them fundamentalist Sunnis — and for the weaponry for them, to enter into Syria.
Qatar, which is owned by its fundamentalist-Sunni royal family the Thanis, likewise was essential to the invasion and occupation of Syria, and funded the Muslim Brotherhood in order to assist the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad (as the Thanis did more successfully in Egypt with their installation of Mohammed Morsi). But then, on 5 June 2017, the Sauds decided that the Thanis aren’t sufficiently anti-Shia and anti Iranian; so, the Sauds tried to blockade Qatar and to crush the Thanis. Whereas America’s aristocracy turned against Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s royal family turned against the Thanis. So: both Turkey and Qatar are now on the fence and no longer committed to the US-Saudi side against Syria.
Throughout the recent phase of the 7-year-long jihadists’ war to overthrow Syria’s Government, almost all of the surviving jihadists who did not surrender to Syria’s Government have been killed on the spot where they were, and all of the jihadists who did surrender were bussed by Syria’s Government into Idlib, which consequently is now even more jihadist-friendly than it was at the war’s start. Here is how this happened:
When Barack Obama came into the White House in January 2009 he was hoping to overthrow Syria’s Government. Also in 2009, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s Government was actively planning to do it.
The pro-jihadist Thani family, as the main funders of the Muslim Brotherhood and owners of Qatar, have been almost as important cooperators with US oil and gas companies as are Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The Thanis’ Al Jazeera network reported, on 13 March 2012, that already Idlib was “opposition-held” and that “The Free Syrian Army is based in Turkey and its border is the most likely location for getting arms into Syria.” That’s how The West was transporting weapons to the jihadists. Al Jazeera’s correspondent said that the Syrian Government’s campaign to defeat its opponents there “was ‘Shooting fish in a barrel’ — these people can’t escape, they can’t help themselves, they have very little weaponry, what can they do but sit there and take it?” The West was thoroughly sympathetic, and supplied weapons to the supposedly helpless jihadists.
On 29 July 2012, when the US Government still had not yet made clear that it was planning to hand Syria over to the Saud family, the New York Times headlined “As Syrian War Drags On, Jihadists Take Bigger Role” and already noted that, “Idlib Province, the northern Syrian region where resistance fighters control the most territory, is the prime example.” Their report observed, without any indication of the significance of the fact, that, “A central reason cited by the Obama administration for limiting support to the resistance to things like communications equipment is that it did not want arms flowing to Islamic radicals. But the flip side is that Salafist groups, or Muslim puritans, now receive most foreign financing.” The significance was that Washington was taking its lead from the Sauds and the other fundamentalist-Sunni Arab oil monarchs. The article did, however, note that, “Significantly, most of the money flowing to the Syrian opposition is coming from religious donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region whose generosity hinges on Salafi teaching.” “Salafi teaching” is fundamentalist-Sunni teaching. It originated with Mohammed ibn al-Wahhab, the man who in 1744 authorized the Saud family to conquer the world for Allah. As the NYT reported there, Saudi fundamentalist-Sunni teaching was now taking over in the most-Sunni parts of Syria, because that’s what was being funded by the war’s financial backers:
The attitude prompts grumbling from fighters used to the gentler Islam long prevalent in Syria. Adel, a media activist from Idlib interviewed in Antakya, Turkey, in June, complained that “the Islamic current has broken into the heart of this revolution.” When a Muslim Brotherhood member joined his group in Idlib, he said, inside of a week the man demanded that the slogans that they shouted all included, “There is no god but God.” “Now there are more religious chants than secular ones,” Adel groused. …
Ahrar al-Sham in particular enjoys the support of Sheik Adnan al-Arour, a Sunni Muslim media star in exile, who blasts Shiites and Alawites on his television show and on what appears to be his authentic Twitter account. “We buy weapons from the donations and savings of the Wahhabi children,” said one recent Twitter posting, referring to the Islamic sect prominent in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. …
Abu Zein, a spokesman for Sukur al-Sham, said the organization included Syrians plus other Arabs, French and Belgians. “The Qaeda ideology existed previously, but it was suppressed by the regime,” he said in a Skype interview. “But after the uprising they found very fertile ground, plus the funders to support their existence,” he added. “The ideology was present, but the personnel were absent. Now we have both.”
Bill Roggio, of Long War Journal, reported on 4 August 2012 that “Al Nusrah Front conducts joint operation with Free Syrian Army”. Nusrah was the name for Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and the FSA were controlled by Turkey’s Government. These were America’s key allies on this matter.
On 15 November 2012, Roggio concluded that, “The al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front has been the most active jihadist group in Syria.” He also clarified, which the July NYT report had not, that, “The Ahrar al Sham Brigades is a Salafist-jihadist group that operates in Idlib and the surrounding areas, and has numerous foreign fighters in its ranks. Sheik Adnan al Arour, a prominent Syrian cleric who has often appeared in the media, backs the Ahrar al Sham Brigades.”
Roggio reported on 19 December 2012 that, “The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria, and allied jihadist groups took control of the last major Syrian Army base in western Aleppo after a two-month-long siege. The base is believed to be involved in Syria’s chemical weapons program.” So, that might have been one of the incidents when jihadists obtained chemical weapons to blame subsequently against Syria’s Government.
On 25 February 2013, the New York Times bannered, “Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms” and reported, regarding those ‘rebels’ (who were actually being led by Al Qaeda — but the NYT kept this fact a secret) that, “Washington’s role in the shipments, if any, is not clear. Officials in Europe and the United States, including those at the Central Intelligence Agency, cited the sensitivity of the shipments and declined to comment publicly.” (Already, any honest newspaper would have abandoned using Obama’s ‘rebels’ label for them and would honestly have instead said “jihadists” in order to refer to them, but the US major media clearly aren’t honest.)
On 8 March 2013, Britain’s Telegraph bannered “US and Europe in ‘major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb’: The United States has coordinated a massive airlift of arms to Syrian rebels from Croatia with the help of Britain and other European states, despite the continuing European Union arms embargo, it was claimed yesterday.” This newspaper reported that, “Western officials told the New York Times that the weapons had been bought from Croatia by Saudi Arabia, and that they had been funnelled to rebel groups seen by the west as more secular and nationalist.” Since virtually all “rebel groups” in Syria actually worked under Al Qaeda’s leadership and training, calling them “more secular and nationalist” was simply to lie — someone had lied there, too.
Dr. Christof Lehman on 8 August 2013 presented considerable support for the view that “Ultimately, the designated function of the Muslim Brotherhood (AKP) administration of Tayyip Erdogan is the dismantlement of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent establishment of smaller US/NATO client states along ethnic and sectarian lines.”
On 22 June 2014, Dr. Lehmann reported that, “The green light for the use of ISIS brigades to carve up Iraq, widen the Syria conflict into a greater Middle East war and to throw Iran off-balance was given behind closed doors at the Atlantic Council meeting in Turkey, in November 2013, told a source close to Saudi – Lebanese billionaire Saad Hariri, adding that the US Embassy in Ankara is the operation’s headquarter. … The summit was, among others, attended by Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül, US Energy Secretary Ernst Monitz, Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former US National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.”
On 12 June 2015 (less than four months before Russia, at Syria’s request, was to enter the war on 30 September 2015, to prevent a Saud takeover of Syria), the Washington Post reported that, “because of regime losses in Idlib and elsewhere, … many people are starting to openly talk about an endgame for Assad and Syria.” Victory for the US-Saud-Turkey-Qatar-al-Qaeda side seemed now to be almost assured.
Then, Dr. Christina Lin wrote on 19 September 2015, that “Turkey-backed Chinese Uyghur terrorists are gaining a stronghold in Syria from which to launch attacks on China” and “3,500 Uyghurs are settling in a village near Jisr-al Shagour that was just taken from Assad, close to the stronghold of Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) that is in the Turkey-backed Army of Conquest. They are allegedly under the supervision of Turkish intelligence that has been accused of supplying fake passports to recruit Chinese Uyghurs to wage jihad in Syria.” Turkey was recruiting Al Qaeda’s Uyghur Chinese Turkmen into Syria. America and its allies seemed confident that Assad would soon be overthrown.
The Debka File was the only honest English-language reporter on the top news-story of 30 September 2015 (if not of that entire year), the historic day when, as they headlined it with unique honesty, “Russia enters Syrian war with air strikes, jolts the Mid East into new era” — and the Washington Post headlined as the journalistic bad joke that that neoconservative-neoliberal propaganda-sheet is, “Did the Russians really strike the Islamic State?”. And CNN bannered with the ambiguous, but less dishonest and far less ludicrous “Russia launches first airstrikes in Syria”. However, CNN’s heavily propaganda-laden ‘news’ report even contained some lies, such as the sub-headed one, “Russia: Coalition strikes on ISIS illegal,” which falsely suggested that Russia was against bombing ISIS in Syria, when the reality was instead that the US was against bombing ISIS and had not done it until Russia did first, which was on that very day. The US regime was simply bewildered at what had just occurred, which is that the war in Syria was now a superpower war on both of its sides, and no longer only on one side, as it had been until that moment. Putin decided, at that time, that he had had enough of Western aggression, and that he wouldn’t take it anymore: he would come to the defense of that ally. France24, being in line with the US regime, bannered “Russia hitting all of Assad’s opponents: analysts” and opened with the likewise falsifying “Syrian rebels who oppose both the regime and the Islamic State group have been hit hardest by Russian air strikes, showing Moscow’s determination to defend President Bashar al-Assad against all enemies,” as if the French Government, too, were not up to its neck in that war on the jihadists’ side, and as if Russia’s Government had not been consistently ferocious against the spread of jihadism.
The West was already deep in blood on this matter, on the devil’s side of it.
America’s “PBS” Public Broadcasting System TV headlined on 1 October 2015, “Mike Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, talks about why Russia deployed airstrikes in Syria” and Morell told interviewer Charlie Rose about Vladimir Putin:
This guy is a thug. This guy is a bully. The second point I’d make is that he only understands relative power — who’s got more power, who’s got less power. That’s how he thinks about relationships. Third, I will tell you that he tries to create the image that he is this great strategic thinker. He’s not at all. He is a very good tactician, very good reacting to situations taking advantage of situations but he’s not particularly good at thinking them through. You know, I think that he is actually the biggest loser over the long term in the Ukraine crisis and I think he’s miscalculated what he’s doing in Syria now.
What a perfect description he gave there of himself, and of his bosses.
On 25 October 2015, Dr. Christina Lin headlined “Qatar’s jihad and mideast failing states” and reported: “This week Qatar’s foreign minister Khadlid Al-Attiyah said Doha is mulling military intervention in Syria alongside Turkey and Saudi Arabia to fight Assad, rather than ISIS.” The real story always had been that the US is on the side of jihadists, as cheap boots-on-the-ground to do the US aristocracy’s dirty-work abroad.
On 16 November 2015, Dr. Lin reported that, “Chinese Turkistan Islamic Party, Uzbek Imam Bukhari Jamaat and Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad have planted themselves in Idlib. In Aleppo, a May 2015 USAID report on Central Asian fighters in Syria, referred to three Uzbek militant groups allied with Al Nusra as “Aleppo Uzbeks”: Imam al-Bukhoriy Brigade, Uzbek Brigade of Jabhat al Nusra, and Seyfullah Shishani Jamaat. Now, various intelligence sources estimate there are around 5,000 Uzbek, 2,000 Chechens and more than 1,000 Chinese militants in Syria.”
On 24 November 2015, she bannered “NATO, Turkey, annexation of north Syria like north Cyprus?” and ripped into Erdogan as the snake that he is. And she noted: “While Russian jetfighters are flying over Syrian territory at the invitation of the sovereign government of Syria, Turkish jetfighters are flying over Iraqi territory to bomb Kurdish rebels without the consent of the Iraqi government, prompting the Arab League to issue a statement on 4 August condemning Turkey’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty.” He’s like America’s current and recent Presidents. She pointed out that, “as NATO member Turkey is transforming from a secular, democratic system to one of an increasingly Islamist and autocratic presidential system under Erdogan, it appears the alliance is also transforming from a value-based alliance of human right, democracy, and rule of law to one that is increasingly interest-based.” Was she talking about Trump, Obama, and Bush? She closed: “as Erdogan continues to goad NATO to stand in solidarity with Turkey and its territorial expansions in the Levant, it appears the world is now entering a dangerous new phase of an increasingly post-western and illiberal world order.”
But now that Putin had saved Erdogan from being killed by Obama, Erdogan is no longer an American stooge. What he is, is whatever secret deals he has secretly committed himself to.
So: Trump threatened WW III in order to protect the people in the only province in Syria that even at the war’s start were about 90% preferring Al Qaeda and/or ISIS over Assad’s secular Government (and which is even far more jihadist today). As a result, on 17 September 2018, Putin and Rouhani — at least for the time being — offered to hand control of Idlib over to Erdogan, because doing this would postpone if not end that US-and-allied threat, of destroying the world in order to conquer the US aristocracy’s main targets.
*Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010.