They might as well have hauled David Letterman from retirement to do it.

Episode two of the Vienna charade – sorry, the Syrian peace talks – this Saturday comes with a show biz package; all 20 players on the table are supposed to come up with a definitive Syria terrorist list. As in who gets a seat to talk about prospective Syria unity in the future, and who qualifies for being bombed.


This is inbuilt – Chinese box-style – in a truly surrealist ploy; a purported Syria peace plan that should include a ceasefire between Damascus and some “opposition groups.” As if ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goon squads would respect any ceasefire.

So imagine the frenzy at that Viennese table. One man’s jihadi is another man’s “freedom fighter.” Not to mention that according to the Beltway ethos, anyone subscribing to “Assad must go” is a “moderate rebel.”

The usual suspects – US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar – have unsurprisingly pre-empted the move, fiercely defending their (moderate) Rebels With a Cause. These are the ones that would respect democratic elections in Syria; respect other religious groups; would be willing to negotiate with anybody; would respect a ceasefire, de-weaponize and abide by the political transition; and would never engage in global jihad. All of the above, of course, if you take them at face value.

Sultan Erdogan, “moderate rebel” pin-up

Turkish Sultan Erdogan is the undisputed protector saint of “moderate rebels.” So let’s see how some outfits praised his recent electoral landslide.

What passes for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) sent congratulations. Same for Khaled Khoja, chairman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The Army of Conquest, which groups all sorts of goons, from hardcore jihadis to discreet Salafis, and is heavily weaponized via Saudi money said, “We are ardently awaiting the day of Assad’s collapse and the building of brotherhood bridges between the people of Turkey and Syrians.”

The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – totally supported by the ruling AKP, not to mention Qatar – predictably praised the AKP and “the Turkish people.”

All in all, around 15 opposition outfits hailed the Sultan. These will definitely not make the Top Ten terrorist list.

But Vienna, we got a problem. Many, if not the majority of these outfits, are striking “non-hostility pacts” with ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Daesh will lead the terrorist list. In fact it may be THE terrorist list itself; Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, are regarded as “moderate rebels” by Washington. What gives?

Meanwhile, as reported by Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen, US military advisors are already training “moderate rebels” near Salma, in Latakia province, very close to Russia’s air base.

For his part Muhammad Bazarbashi, the leader of the Army of Damascus outfit (3,000 fighters north of Aleppo), told the Anatolian News Agency they are ready to help Ankara fight PKK/PYD Kurds in Syria. Compare it with the fact PKK/PYD are side-by-side with the Americans in the fight to liberate Sinjar in Iraq.

So expect NATO member Turkey to forcefully defend outfits such as these in Vienna – even if they go against American interests.

Bets can be made that Sultan Erdogan, now on a full-fledged ego trip, won’t admit his “strategy” in Syria is in tatters. Even the ultimately demented option – the Turkish Army invading northern Syria – is not out of the cards. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – who buried his own “zero problems with our neighbors” policy – is now frantically spinning Turkey would join a hypothetical “coalition ground operation” targeting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, with Washington leading from behind.

Despair, or read Shelley

Ankara is planning by itself to send no less than 10,700 soldiers to invade northern Syria 46 kilometers deep in mid-December to allegedly fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The real target would not be ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, of course; but PKK/PYD Kurds. And ultimately, that would pit Turkey directly against the “4+1” (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah).

Neglecting all setbacks so far, Erdogan has not given up on his pet “buffer zone” north of Aleppo. That would be Erdogan’s “gift” to the EU: “solving” the refugee crisis via 17 security zones, 11 logistics bases and 6 refugee camps. Inside Syrian territory.

This is arguably Erdogan’s pièce de résistance at the G20 summit in Antalya starting this weekend. After unveiling the cake, he will pass the hat around the Big Table; after all he needs the cash to buy it. Russia, of course, reserves the right to smash the cake in the Sultan’s face.

Selected sound minds in the Pentagon – they do exist — must have been forced to admit that facing the recent advances of “4+1”, Erdogan’s dream is now a no-go.

Or not. Take this hallucinatory, straight from the Cheney regime-era spin that the US needs boots on the ground to “occupy” and even “govern” parts of Syria.

Vienna and Antalya may end up with a certified terrorist list of One (the fake “Caliphate”) and a check for the invasion of northern Syria.

The rest of us may find consolation in Shelley’s long-lost 1811 poem – composed when he was a 18-year-old student at Oxford – just acquired by the Bodleian Library, where he writes about “cold advisers of yet colder kings” and political leaders who lend “to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile.”

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.
(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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