“The U.S. will sustain a ‘conditions-based’ military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS [Islamic State], and to stabilize liberated areas,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Agence France-Presse Dec. 5.
Washington must deal with Tehran’s “growing capability, their use of militias, proxies and terrorist organizations,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Dec. 3. “About 80 percent of [Syrian dictator Bashar al-]Assad’s fighters are Iranian proxies in Syria to establish a land bridge over into the Mediterranean.”
But U.S. rulers face a dilemma. They cannot deploy massive numbers of ground forces to the area because of political opposition by working people at home. With the exception of Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, backed by Washington, the Pentagon has been unable to put in place an effective fighting force on the ground in the region.
While not widely publicized by Washington, the number of U.S. forces in the Middle East is in the tens of thousands and slowly rising. Some 10,000 military personnel are stationed in Qatar at the Al Udeid Air Base, which coordinates U.S. airstrikes throughout the region; another 7,000 are in Bahrain, from where the 5th Navy Fleet operates; and 15,000 are in Kuwait.
The U.S. military has 10 bases and “outposts” in northern Syria, several of them with airfields, and two other outposts in southern Syria near the Iraqi border, with no plans to leave anytime soon. U.S. forces have 11 regular and “temporary” bases in Iraq.
The biggest winner in the war against Islamic State has been the regime in Tehran. They have moved to “fill the void in Iraq and Syria,” McMaster said, calling them “weak states” Tehran can take advantage of.
Moscow, whose airstrikes over the past couple of years together with ground troops from Iran, Hezbollah and related Tehran-backed militias, has resurrected the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and is expanding its military presence there. A decadeslong agreement with the regime reinforces Russia’s Tartus naval base on the Mediterranean, its air base in the Latakia area, and a new one built near Damascus, Syria’s capital.
Saudi rulers push ‘modernization’
To counter Tehran’s growing influence, Washington is backing the al-Saud monarchy in Saudi Arabia and its drive to clear away aspects of the country’s tribal-based social, religious and political relations that pose obstacles to capitalist “modernization” there.
There are 5,000 third-generation princes in Saudi Arabia whose families and entourages eat up $30 to $50 billion per year. These “royals” have accumulated vast economic power through special access to government contracts and control over imported labor.
The Saudi regime is now offering freedom to some of the over 200 people — princes, current and former cabinet ministers and oil-monopoly billionaires — arrested Nov. 4 on charges of “corruption” if they put large amounts of their wealth into government coffers. This would place some $100 billion in capital in the hands of the state for investments to expand infrastructure, industry and manufacturing to diversify the economy away from over-dependency on oil.
Over three-quarters of Saudi citizens work for the state, with generous social benefits. That’s not the case for the 9 million foreign-born workers — about 30 percent of the total population — who comprise nearly 80 percent of the workforce. Many are brought into the country on fixed-term contracts and face dangerous working conditions and low pay.
This drive — led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — includes eliminating many restrictions on women, including the right to drive and attend public events. These steps are popular among the vast majority of the Saudi population, 65 percent of whom are under age 30. Steps have also been taken to reign in the powers of the Wahhabi Muslim ministry over political and social life.
To further its impact in the region, the Saudi government has initiated a Muslim Military Alliance of some 40 countries that includes Turkey and excludes Iraq, Syria and Iran.
With Washington’s support, the Saudi air force has been bombarding Yemen in a nearly three-year-long war aimed at defeating Tehran-backed Houthi rebels who have taken control over large parts of the country. At Riyadh’s insistence, the U.N. Security Council imposed a total blockade on the country Nov. 6.
According to the U.N., some 7 million of the country’s 28 million people are on the brink of starvation, nearly 1 million have contracted cholera and over 2,000 have died from it.
Former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in Sanaa Dec. 4. Saleh made billions for himself ruling Yemen with an iron fist for 33 years before being forced to resign in 2011 because of mass “Arab Spring” protests. He sided with the Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition, but broke with them two days before being killed.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home