Tag Archives: Bashar al-Assad

It’s time to reclaim Syria’s road to recovery, by Pablo Escobar

Two has two very unattractive options in Syria. From Pablo Escobar at asiatimes.com:

Erdogan de facto supports al-Qaeda remnants while facing either humiliating retreat from or total war against Syria

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, neo-Ottoman extraordinaire, is not exactly inclined to commit seppuku, the Japanese act of ritual suicide.

But if not through the perspective of neo-Ottomanism, how to explain the fact he is de facto supporting al-Qaeda remnants in Syria while facing two unsavory options – a humiliating retreat from or total war against the Syrian Arab Army?

Everything about the slowly evolving, messy chessboard in Idlib hinges on highways: the imperative for the government in Damascus to control both the M5 highway between Damascus and Aleppo and the M4 highway between Latakia and Aleppo. Fully reclaiming these two crucial axes will finally turbo-charge the ailing Syrian economy.

Very few players nowadays remember the all-important Sochi memorandum of understanding signed between Russia and Turkey in September 2018.

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The Think Tank Dedicated To Keeping the US in the Syria Quagmire, by Dave DeCamp

Many think tanks do very little thinking. From Dave DeCamp at antiwar.com:

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released a report on November 21sttitled “Russia’s Dead-End Diplomacy in Syria.” The report focuses on Russia’s role in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and calls for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Syria.

The ISW presents itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.” In reality, the ISW is a neocon think tank funded by some of the country’s largest defense contractors. The ISW has a significant influence in Washington, and its chairman even has direct access to President Trump.

The report argues that Assad does not have the resources to regain and maintain control of the rest of Syria and that his victory would not bring stability. As far as Russia’s role, the report says, “The Kremlin seeks to thwart any Western effort to replace Assad and to instead reach a superficial political settlement that legitimizes his regime and neutralizes his opposition.”

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Combat Vet Senator Richard Black Fighting the War Party, by Hunter DeRensis

Most of America’s most ardent proponents of interventionism and perma-war have never been closer to an actual war than a two-day public relations tour of the troops. From Hunter DeRensis at antiwar.com:

Two weeks ago the Virginia State Senate switched hands from the Republicans to the Democrats, another step in the state’s leftward turn. One of the Democratic pick ups was in the 13th district, where incumbent State Senator Dick Black is retiring from public service. Black is a Vietnam veteran and former colonel in the US army, a former delegate in the Virginia House, and he has served in the state senate since 2012.

Senator Black, who has been a vocal opponent of the United States’ overseas wars, spoke to Antiwar.com for an exclusive interview covering his military career, candid rejection of the Washington foreign policy consensus, and his activism against regime change in Syria.

Military Service and the Vietnam War

Black was born in northern Virginia in 1944, and spent his young formative years being raised in Miami, Florida. After attending the University of Miami for one year, Black was compelled to leave due to financial distress. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and began a “miserable existence” in the aviation cadet program.

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Three Deep State Confessions On Syria, by Brad Hoff

The Deep State has wanted to get rid of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for a long time. From Brad Hoff at libertarianinstitute.org:

Rare admissions from deep within the Washington blob…

First, all the way back in 2005 — more than a half decade before the war began — CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told Assad to his face that regime change is coming. Thankfully this was in a televised and archived interview, now for posterity to behold.

Amanpour, it must be remembered, was married to former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin (until 2018), who further advised both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Is Putin the New King of the Middle East? by Patrick J. Buchanan

Putin has had an impressive run in the Middle East, and it looks like he’s stitching together a truce that may serve as a basis for lasting peace in Syria. From Patrick J. Buchanan at buchanan.org:

“Russia Assumes Mantle of Supreme Power Broker in the Middle East,” proclaimed Britain’s Telegraph. The article began:

“Russia’s status as the undisputed power-broker in the Middle East was cemented as Vladimir Putin continued a triumphant tour of capitals traditionally allied to the US.”

“Donald Trump Has Handed Putin the Middle East on a Plate” was the title of a Telegraph column. “Putin Seizes on Trump’s Syria Retreat to Cement Middle East Role,” said the Financial Times.

The U.S. press parroted the British: Putin is now the new master of the Mideast. And woe is us.

Before concluding that Trump’s pullout of the last 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is America’s Dunkirk, some reflection is needed.

Yes, Putin has played his hand skillfully. Diplomatically, as the Brits say, the Russian president is “punching above his weight.”

He gets on with everyone. He is welcomed in Iran by the Ayatollah, meets regularly with Bibi Netanyahu, is a cherished ally of Syria’s Bashar Assad, and this week was being hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia and the royal rulers of the UAE. October 2019 has been a triumphal month.

Yet, consider what Putin has inherited and what his capabilities are for playing power broker of the Middle East.

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Everybody Betraying Everybody in Syria, by Graham E. Fuller

Russia has been far more adroit than the US in using both its military and diplomacy to achieve its desired outcomes in the Middle East. From Graham E. Fuller at consortiumnews.com:

After some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm, writes Graham E. Fuller.

Just what have we witnessed in the recent events in Syria? It’s hard to know, given the avalanche of superficial and over-the-top headlines in most U.S. media: betrayal of the Kurds, handing Syria over to Russia, caving to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, bestowing a gift upon Iran, allowing ISIS to once again run wild, end of U.S. leadership.

Yet the bottom line of the story is that after some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm. The Syrian government is now close to re-establishing its sovereign control again over the entire country. Indeed, Syria’s sovereign control over its own country had been vigorously contested, in fact blocked, by many external interventions — mainly on the part of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few European hangers-on — all hoping to exploit the early uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and overthrow it. In favor of what was never clear.

Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border, Aug. 3, 2012. (Voice of America News/Henry Ridgwell, Wikimedia Commons)

Much of this picture has a long history. The U.S. has been trying to covertly overthrow the Syrian regime off and on for some 50 years, periodically joined on occasion by Israel or Saudi Arabia or Iraq, or Turkey or the U.K. Most people assumed that when the Arab Spring broke out in Syria in 2011 that civil uprisings there too would lead to the early overthrow of another authoritarian regime. But it did not. This was in part due to Asad’s brutal put-down of rebel forces, in part because of the strong support he received from Russia, Iran and Hizballah, and in part because large numbers of Syrian elites feared that whoever might take Asad’s place — most likely one or another Jihadi group — would be far worse, more radical and chaotic than Asad’s strict but stable  secular domestic rule.

Nonetheless over this entire time the U.S. has been willing to support almost any motley array of forces, including even extremist jihadi forces linked with al-Qaeda, to try to overthrow Asad. Washington has never gotten over the fact that Syria for over half a century has never bowed to U.S. or Israeli hegemony in the region, and has all along been a strong supporter of Syria’s secular —yes secular —Arab nationalism. The U.S. has therefore shown great willingness to “fight to the last Syrian” if necessary to achieve its ends.

U.S. Reaping What it Sows

As Asad’s forces gradually regained control over the country, Washington resisted those efforts — even though large numbers of Syrians want to see an end to war and destruction. In the Middle East, after all, Asad’s Syria had been by no means the worst regime alongside of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Saddam’s Iraq, Iran and other states. If Washington disliked Asad before, it is even more angered that Asad appealed to Iran, Russia and Hizballah for support. Yet ironically, if the civil war, with its massive foreign support to the rebels, had not been so prolonged, Asad might not have needed Russian or Iranian support and presence. So we reap what we sow. And it is important to remember that Asad still represents the internationally recognized, legitimate, if often nasty and harsh, government of Syria.

Raqqa Internal Security Force Training Class 005 graduates receive their initial issue of equipment after completing their training in Ayn Issa, Syria, July 31 2017. (U.S. Army/Mitchell Ryan)

As part of the anti-Asad struggle, the U.S. had sought to maintain an autonomous area for the Syrian Kurds in northern Syria along the Turkish border. The hope was that it would remain an enclave of opposition to Asad and a base of U.S. power within a divided Syria.

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Which brings up the sad issue of the Kurds. What about Kurdish militia assistance in the struggle against ISIS? There is no doubt that the Syrian Kurds were effective in that struggle. But it is not as if the Syrian Kurds are the only forces that can fight the now motley dregs of the Islamic Caliphate (ISIS). Asad, Russia, Iraq and Iran all have every reason in the world to see ISIS expunged off the map — long after the U.S. and the Kurds are out of the picture. The Kurds are not essential to that picture.

Under these circumstances, I believe that President Donald Trump is justified in pulling out U.S. forces from Syria as part of an ongoing process of bringing a gradual end to Washington’s endless wars. This war no longer served any real purpose except to destabilize Syria, perpetuate its brutal civil conflict and provide an excuse to keep U.S. troops on the ground and strengthen Iranian and Russian involvement in the struggle. Its refugees have helped destabilize EU politics. In terms of Trump’s “gift to Putin,” the Russians have had a dominant foothold in Syria for many decades. So, there’s not much new here.

Whose Agenda? 

It is indeed hard to keep track of the Syrian situation since there are so many players, each with its own agenda. Whose narrative you choose to identify with in this mess depends on what your agenda is in Syria.

Do you favor the Israeli agenda? Keep Syria permanently weak, divided and without allies. Do anything that will hurt Iran. Maintain Israel as the dominant Middle Eastern power.

Like Russia’s agenda? Russia is successfully working to regain its former centuries-old role in the Middle East in general — a position which briefly collapsed 20 years ago with the end of the U.S.S.R. Russia’s agenda is above all driven by its strong opposition to any further U.S. attempts at engineering regime change by coup against any and all governments globally that the U.S. does not like. Remember that U.S. intervention in Syria has not been sanctioned by international law, whereas both Russia and Iran were both formally invited to come in and assist the legally recognized Syrian government.

President of Syria Bashar Assad made a working visit to Moscow on Oct. 20, 2015. (The Russian President)

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, shaking hands at left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Oct. 20, 2015. (The Russian President)

But there is another striking feature of Russian diplomacy: it also seeks to maintain working ties with all, repeat all, players in the Middle East including seemingly incompatible ones: good ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE, Yemen, the U.S., etc. At the same time the U.S. has refused to maintain any such comprehensive working ties across the region with forces it does not like. Hence it refuses to talk with key players like Iran, Syria and Hizballah or countenance a Russian role there. That kind of U.S. posture has above all “served Putin” who has emerged as a master of regional diplomacy and compromise.

Turkey above all wants to keep the lid on all Kurdish political forces in the region that might facilitate Kurdish separatism inside Turkey — where the biggest Kurdish population in the Middle East lives. Hence the Turkish effort to invade the Syrian Kurdish enclave. The Kurds there ultimately saw the handwriting on the wall and opted to come to terms with the regime in Damascus. That moment had to come.

How do we sum up Washington’s agenda? Mixed. First, it supports almost anything Israel wants in the region. Second, it supports almost anything that will weaken and destabilize Iran, and hence anything that will weaken and destabilize Asad’s Syria. Then the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia in almost all its adventurist policies across the region and keep Yemen in bloody turmoil. The U.S. also seeks to keep ISIS at bay — but so do Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Then Washington seeks by almost every means to weaken Russia and Iran’s position in the region. It also hopes to keep Turkey “loyal” to U.S. goals in the region — a vain hope. Finally, it seeks to maintain U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf under the pretext of protecting the free flow of oil. Of course, all Gulf producers want to sell their oil. And Asian consumers have a far higher stake in keeping the oil flowing — India, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and others. So protecting those Asian shipping lanes (which has not really been necessary anyway) is most appropriately handled by them.

Russian and U.S. representatives meet to discuss the situation in Syria, Sept. 29, 2015.
(Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

As for Iran, it is determined to maintain allies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to the extent that it can. These allies are mainly important in a defensive operation against a concerted Israeli-Saudi-American drive to weaken Iran and all Shi’a across the region. Iran is only strong in its Shi’a identity to the extent that it is attacked for being Shi’a. So, Iran will seek to protect Shi’a populations in the region from oppression and discrimination from Sunni regimes, especially Saudi Arabia. Iran has no brief for the autonomy of any of the Kurds in the region lest it stir up Iran’s own very significant Kurdish population.

Iraq so far is a bit player, but it will gain importance with every passing year as it struggles to reestablish a viable Iraqi state after the country was decimated by the U.S. -led long war in Iraq.

The Kurds

What about the Kurds themselves, a highly complex and diverse force in the region? The Kurds are not united and may never attain unity. Kurds, after all, have been socialized within four different countries (Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria) where they speak three quite different languages (Turkish, Arabic and Persian). Among themselves they speak fairly distinct dialects of Kurdish in different regions. Kurds have always dreamed of independence for over 100 years (one of the biggest ethnic groups in the world without an independent state)  but have been constantly thwarted by regional and international powers and have never been able to settle upon a common strategy. They have consistently been tactically exploited and utilized by outside powers for over a century (U.K. U.S., France, Israel, Iran, Turkey and Syria) when they have periodically served the geopolitical purposes of those states. They have been routinely promised support for greater Kurdish autonomy, and then, when they outlive their usefulness, they have been routinely thrown to the winds. The U.S. is only the latest state to “betray” the Kurds, by abandoning them this time — and the U.S. did the same many decades ago under Henry Kissinger who joined the Shah in using them against Saddam Hussein and then discarded them to their fate.

The Syrian Kurds had hoped that the U.S. war party in Washington would embrace their cause indefinitely. They were certainly disappointed that that has not happened, but cannot have been surprised that the U.S. would eventually decide to abandon them when the Turks, Russians and Syrians all decided to put an end to their autonomous enclave in the name of a unified Syrian state.

Ultimately Kurdish-Turkish rapprochement within Turkey is far from an impossible task, but it will take some time. There is a groundwork from the past to be built upon. And once relations with Turkey’s own Kurds inside Turkey have been regularized, Turkey will likely be far more relaxed about the Syrian Kurds, who in any case will need to settle on an arrangement for some kind of modest local status in Syria. Turkey after all came to accept an autonomous Kurdish zone in Iraq and has deep economic relations with it.

The most vociferous voices in Washington for sticking by the Kurds in Syria come from several sources. First, from those who reflexively oppose any policy of Trump under any circumstances anywhere. Second, those interventionists who seek to maintain U.S. armed presence in the region at almost all costs — and the untiring U.S. global task in their eyes is never finished. Third, there are many who want to keep Israel strategically happy and empowered.

The interventionist crowd in Washington wants the U.S. in Syria indefinitely as proof of our “credibility” to fight everybody’s war, and maintain American “leadership” — read hegemony — in the region. Sadly, the prolonged war agenda would not seem to do anybody in the region any good, including the U.S.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim world; his first novel is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan;” his second novel is “BEAR—a novel of eco-violence in the Canadian Northwest” (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com.

Kurds face stark options after US pullback, by Pepe Escobar

The Kurds have little choice but to deal with the Syrian government and support Russian mediation in northern Syria. From Pepe Escobar at asiatimes.com:

Kurds face stark options after US pullback

Syrian Arabs and Kurdish civilians arrive to Hassakeh city after fleeing bombardment on Syria’s northeastern towns along the Turkish border on October 10, 2019 amid fears of a new humanitarian crisis. Photo: AFP / Delil Souleiman
Forget an independent Kurdistan: They may have to do a deal with Damascus on sharing their area with Sunni Arab refugees
In the annals of bombastic Trump tweets, this one is simply astonishing: here we have a President of the United States, on the record, unmasking the whole $8-trillion intervention in the Middle East as an endless war based on a “false premise.” No wonder the Pentagon is not amused.
Trump’s tweet bisects the surreal geopolitical spectacle of Turkey attacking a 120-kilometer-long stretch of Syrian territory east of the Euphrates to essentially expel Syrian Kurds. Even after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cleared with Trump the terms of the Orwellian-named “Operation Peace Spring,” Ankara may now face the risk of US economic sanctions.

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