Twelve months ago the Tweeters and Facebookers were in full cry demanding the bombing of Damascus and the public execution of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
They were also howling for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges following the downing of Malayasia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine.
At the same time, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was threatening to “shirt-front” the Russian leader at the G-20 summit in Brisbane and Murdoch’s hysterical columnists were insisting he be deported or arrested on arrival.
Oops. This is a railway announcement: “All change to the Circle Line.” Putin is now the West’s ally against IS (“the death cult”) and Washington, Canberra and London are supporting the survival of Assad, formerly known as “the Butcher of Damascus”.
Have Putin and Assad changed in 12 months? No, Western politicians and the media have. Faced with a refugee crisis of Biblical proportions and making limited military headway against IS in either Iraq or Syria, imperialism has changed its narrative and welcomed Russian military deployment in Syria and suspended the policy of regime change in Damascus.
Will the war party consisting of the Coalition government, the Labor Opposition, the Murdoch media, the ABC and the Lowy Institute now explain how and why they have backflipped? Somehow, I don’t think so.
To underline the policy change, the Pentagon announced this week that it was ending its $500 million train-and-equip programme for Syrian militiamen.
The initiative was a howling failure. When graduates met their first challenge from al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria, they fled in panic. Ten days ago a second group of US-trained militiamen gave their weapons and ammunition to al-Nusra in return for surrendering and being allowed to walk back to their base. Another American “mission accomplished” in the Middle East?
High-level diplomacy is all about linkage: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine or scratch the back of one of my friends/allies.”
Successive Australian governments have never seriously practised sophisticated diplomacy, and therefore know little of the subtle art of linkage.
While it is a very familiar diplomatic device among imperialist powers such as Britain, France and the US, it is virtually unknown in Canberra.
This is because Australian diplomats and politicians have been bending over to the diplomatic requirements of “our allies” for more than a century – London before World War One and Washington ever since World War Two.
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was the last prime minister to practise an independent foreign policy. He strongly opposed the Vietnam war (and the resumption of US bombing in 1972) and the CIA coup in Chile and wanted Australian oversight of the US base at Pine Gap. We all know where that got him.
Linkage is the key element in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to send warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and ground troops to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian advisers have been in Syria since the 1970s when Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled with a rod of iron while wheeling and dealing with the US, Britain, France, the USSR, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the PLO.
The opportunism of the comprador bourgeois regime worked for the father and the son for almost 50 years; but now time and bluff have run out.
Putin has sent Russian military forces into Syria to increase his leverage. He now controls Assad and the future conduct of the war against IS.
In return, Putin wants the West to legitimise his takeover of Ukraine and lift its sanctions against Russian companies and individuals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel favours such an outcome because it will settle the East-West flashpoint and restore the supply of Russian oil and gas to Europe.
Putin’s huge gamble to become the major player in the Syrian conflict is based on Iran’s recent experience with Tehran reaching an agreement to develop its nuclear power programme and have UN sanctions rolled back.
Putin figured: if Iran can broker a deal and have sanctions lifted, so can I.
A history lesson
During the 19th century imperial Britain and imperial Russia fought a strategic battle for supremacy in Central Asia, principally in Persia and Afghanistan. It became known as The Great Game.
In the 20th century the battlelines were expanded by the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, also known as the Asia Minor Agreement. It carved up the crumbling Ottoman Empire, set the boundaries of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and paved the way for the creation of the Zionist state of Israel.
In 1945, at Yalta, a resort town in the Crimea, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin shared the territorial spoils of World War Two. In so doing, they inadvertently laid the fault lines which have eventually exploded in Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
Today The Great Game is still being played. The principal players along with Putin and Obama are the leaders of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, President Hassan Rouhani and Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Who will be the biggest loser in the current Game of Thrones? If al-Assad emerges alive from it all, I will be very surprised. His Russian “defenders” are buried deep inside in the Syrian army high command and the intelligence service, al-Mukhabarat, and they are already working on Plan B – replacing al-Assad.
The Syrian leader is merely collateral damage, and therefore instantly disposable, in Putin’s desperate drive to have sanctions lifted.
Meantime, you will have noticed that the rules of the Great Game have changed. Families of the Middle East and Central Asia are sick of their homelands being invaded and bombed by rich Western foreigners so they decided to leave home and move to Europe.
Israeli Zionism explained
In the 1960s the touchstone of civilised political and moral citizenship was where you stood on the US-led war against Vietnam.
In the 1970s it was your attitude to apartheid in South Africa and in the 2000s it was the US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the 2010s it is people’s attitude to the race and religious-based persecution of the Palestinian people by Israel.
Not a day goes by without the Zionist regime inflicting yet another cruelty or humiliation on Palestinians. This week they have started giving Hebrew names to 30 streets in military-occupied East Jerusalem.
It is part of the Netanyahu regime’s racist policy to “Judaise” the eastern (Palestinian) half of the city.
Seven streets in the historic Silwan district will be given Hebrew names, including “Ma’a lot Ir David” and “Shir LaMa’alot”, and Mount of Olives streets will be called “Nahalat Shimon” and “Nahalat Yitzhak”. A street near Damascus Gate will be renamed “Amir Drori” in recognition of the founder of the larcenous Israel Antiquities Authority.
Arab Knesset MP Ahmad Tibi called the name changes a “pyromaniac decision” which will fuel unrest against Israeli occupation.
But all is not bleak. In New York at the UN General Assembly the Palestinian flag was flown for the first time. Symbolic? Yes, but globally significant in its political reach.
So far, the Zionist public relations geniuses, with billions of dollars at their disposal, have managed to confuse world opinion.
However, the issue is very simple. Do you support imperialism or not? If you are an anti-imperialist – and most people in the world are – then you will support Palestinian self-determination.
One more thing, given that the Zionists are hell-bent on driving the Palestinians from their homeland: maybe the West Bank and Gaza Arabs should plan an exodus to the Freedom Lands of Europe, North America or Australia. Just a suggestion …