Syria’s fury is justified – Who can blame Damascus for getting cosy with Moscow?

The US has once again “targeted foreign fighters” as part of its so-called war on terror. But these “fighters” were all Syrian civilians, including four youngsters. Another five individuals have been hospitalized after being shot by US Special Forces.

Washington has admitted perpetrating this tragic incident but insists the victims were terrorists just as it does when its fighter jets illegally cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and end up wiping out entire families. Syria describes the adult victims as construction workers.

Even the pro-American Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is fed up with the Pentagon’s trigger-happy policies that exact such a terrible toll on innocent civilian life. The problem is there is no international oversight on US military activities. There is no investigation into these murders and the world is expected to take every utterance from the US military as gospel.

Contrast this with the way Syria was taken to task for its alleged (and as yet unproven) involvement in the assassination of pro-Western Lebanese politicians and journalists. Just imagine the outcry and repercussions if the shoe were on the other foot and Syrian jets invaded Iraq airspace to take out US targets. Worse, the US is unrepentant. The Associated Press quotes a US official saying his country is “taking matters into our own hands” due to Syria’s lack of cooperation — a statement that certainly does not bode well for the future and illustrates Washington’s steadfast belief in its own exceptionalism.

No other country, barring Israel, would be allowed to get away with such brutal behavior. Last year, if you recall, Israel bombed a Syrian military site saying it was destined to be a nuclear reactor. Syria vehemently denied this claim and the director-general of the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, condemned the attack saying that “the unilateral use of force by Israel” undermines “the due process of verification that is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime.”

By anyone’s moral or legal reckoning, the attack on a Syrian farm was a crime against humanity and should not be tolerated by either Syria or the international community, bearing in mind that although Syrian-US relations are frosty the two countries are not at war.

Moreover, it is not strategically helpful coming at a time when Washington is trying to prize the Syrians out of Iran’s arms and Israel is seeking a peace deal in exchange for return of the Golan Heights. In this case, who can blame Damascus for getting cosy with Russia, which is constructing permanent naval bases in two Syrian ports? Moscow is also thought to be supplying Syria with advanced weaponry and sophisticated air defense systems as well as the nuclear-capable 200 km range Iskander missiles, set to greatly erode Israel’s regional military superiority.

Syria fell out of favor with Washington and its Western allies in 2003 when President Bashar Assad railed at the invasion of Iraq, which he considered was not mandated by UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, he was quite right as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan later admitted. Yet, being right didn’t prevent Syria being treated as a rogue nation from then on. It had to be punished for not towing the line. And in 2003, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed the Syrian Accountability Act that imposed sanctions on Damascus for its support of “terrorists and nuclear proliferation activities.” The fact that Syria had hitherto willingly cooperated in the war on terror and there was no proof it sought nuclear weapons stood for nothing.

This sea change in attitudes must have been a blow to President Bashar, who just a year earlier had enjoyed tea with the British queen and was treated royally by Downing Street.

It’s surely time for the US to quit Iraq. It’s done enough damage during the more than five years since “shock and awe” and the Bush administration should not be rewarded with a signed Status of Forces pact that allows US forces to remain in the country until at least 2011.

The pact is deeply unpopular with the Iraqi Cabinet and ordinary people but Washington warns of “dire consequences” if it isn’t embraced in its current form well before Dec. 31 — the expiry date of the current UN mandate covering the American presence in Iraq. Such “consequences” include an end to US support of the Iraqi economy and aid to the Iraqi military according to Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi, who has likened the threats to “blackmail.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki believes that signing the agreement would be akin to “political suicide.” Moreover it may affect Iraq’s relationship with neighbors Iran and Syria. President-hopeful Barack Obama, whom polls currently place nine points ahead of his rival, is keen to quit Iraq in order to concentrate efforts in Afghanistan. Iraq would, therefore, be best advised to ignore US threats and stall signing the pact until the US election on Nov. 4.

The same advice can be given to Syria. The recent bloody incursion into its territory was an outrage. There is absolutely no excuse for it and in a world without double standards, the US should be made to pay for its arrogance. But at the same time there is hope.

Will the next US administration work toward repairing the wrongs of its predecessor and reach out to other nations or will it engage in more of the same? Now that is the question those who live in this neighborhood are desperate to have answered.