20 April 2019 — New Eastern Outlook
The US-engineered proxy war against Syria, beginning in 2011 and the crescendo of the so-called “Arab Spring,” has ended in all but absolute defeat for Washington.
Its primary goal of overthrowing the Syrian government and/or rendering the nation divided and destroyed as it has done to Libya has not only failed – but triggered a robust Russian and Iranian response giving both nations an unprecedented foothold in Syria and unprecedented influence throughout the rest of the region.
Lamenting America’s defeat in Syria in the pages of Foreign Affairs is Brett McGurk – a career legal and diplomatic official in Washington whose most recent title was, “Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” He resigned in protest over alleged plans for a US withdrawal from its illegal occupation of eastern Syria.
McGurk’s lengthy complaints are full of paragraph-to-paragraph contradictions – illustrating the lack of legitimate unified purpose underpinning US policy in Syria.
In his article titled, “Hard Truths in Syria: America Can’t Do More With Less, and It Shouldn’t Try,” McGurk would claim (emphasis added):
Over the last four years, I helped lead the global response to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS)—an effort that succeeded in destroying an ISIS “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East that had served as a magnet for foreign jihadists and a base for launching terrorist attacks around the world.
McGurk would also claim (emphasis added):
Following a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump gave a surprise order to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, apparently without considering the consequences. Trump has since modified that order—his plan, as of the writing of this essay, is for approximately 200 U.S. troops to stay in northeastern Syria and for another 200 to remain at al-Tanf, an isolated base in the country’s southeast. (The administration also hopes, likely in vain, that other members of the coalition will replace the withdrawn U.S. forces with forces of their own.)
Yet if anything McGurk says is true, then ISIS is undoubtedly a threat not only to the United States, but to all of its coalition partners – mainly Western European nations. Why wouldn’t they eagerly commit troops to the coalition if ISIS truly represented a threat to their security back home? And why would the US withdraw any troops in the first place if this were true?
The answer is very simple – ISIS was a creation of the West – a tool explicitly designed to help “isolate” the Syrian government and carry out military and terrorist operations the US and its partners were unable to do openly.
It was in a leaked 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo (PDF) that revealed the US and its allies’ intent to create what it called a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. The memo would explicitly state that (emphasis added):
If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
On clarifying who these supporting powers were, the DIA memo would clarify:
The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China, and Iran support the regime.
This “Salafist”[Islamic] “principality” [State] would show up on cue, placing additional pressure on an already besieged government in Damascus and eventually creating a pretext for direct Western military intervention in Syria.
Only through Russia’s own intervention in 2015 were US plans overturned and its overt war against Syria frozen in limbo.
McGurk and others throughout the Western establishment have attempted to compartmentalize what is essentially their own collective failures by linking them exclusively to both former-US President Barack Obama and current US President Donald Trump.
Whether President Trump maintains troops in eastern Syria or not, nothing will change or reverse the significant strategic and geopolitical defeat Washington has suffered.
Instead, troops levels and deployments in not only Syria, but also neighboring Iraq, serve to contribute to the next phase of US interference in the Middle East – spoiling reconciliation and reconstruction.
Washington’s War of Terror
This most recent episode of US military intervention in the Middle East – fighting terrorists it itself created and deliberately deployed specifically to serve as a pretext – is an example of US “slash and burn” foreign policy.
Just as farmers burn to the ground forest that serves them no purpose so that they can plant what they desire in its place – the US deliberately overturned an emerging political and economic order in the Middle East that served them no purpose in a bid to replace it with one that did.
McGurk all but admits this in his article, claiming – as he gave his version of ISIS’ defeat – that (emphasis added):
Over the next four years, ISIS lost nearly all the territory it once controlled. Most of its leaders were killed. In Iraq, four million civilians have returned to areas once held by ISIS, a rate of return unmatched after any other recent violent conflict. Last year, Iraq held national elections and inaugurated a new government led by capable, pro-Western leaders focused on further uniting the country. In Syria, the SDF fully cleared ISIS out of its territorial havens in the country’s northeast, and U.S.-led stabilization programs helped Syrians return to their homes.
He also claimed:
Iraqis and Syrians, not Americans, are doing most of the fighting. The coalition, not just Washington, is footing the bill. And unlike the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, this campaign enjoys widespread domestic and international support.
In other words, it was a redesigned regime-change campaign spanning both Syria and Iraq, designed to attract domestic and international support by using an appalling – but artificially engineered – enemy to destroy both nations and allow the US and its “coalition partners” to rebuild the region as it desired.
And while McGurk enumerates the accomplishments of his US-led coalition – what he omits is the existence of a vastly more effective and powerful coalition in the region led by Russia and Iran.
While McGurk boasts of taking back empty desert in eastern Syria, it was the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah allies who took back Syria’s most important, pivotal, and most populated cities.
In Iraq – Iranian sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) carried out a large percentage of the fighting against ISIS there – and in the process have created a permanent nationwide network of militias that will better underwrite Iraqi security than compromising US defense partnerships and expensive US arms contracts, and the hordes of terrorists sponsored by the US itself to justify both.
McGurk eventually admits further into his article that the US presence in Syria has little to do with ISIS – and more to do with “great power diplomacy.”
He talks about the “US zone of influence” in Syria and brags about America’s ability to “enforce” it by killing Iranians and Russians who entered it in pursuit of terrorists the US was all but openly harboring.
McGurk also repeatedly decries “Iranian military entrenchment” in Syria, a geopolitical development made possible only by America’s many categorical failures amid its proxy war in Syria.
ISIS was eradicated first and foremost in areas under the control of the sovereign governments of Syria and Iraq in cooperation with Russia and Iran.
ISIS remnants have clung – without coincidence – to territory within the “US zone of influence.”
The US continues citing “ISIS” as its pretext to remain in Syria – while simultaneously admitting its presence in the region aims at reasserting Western domination over it and containing Russian and Iranian influence – Russia which was invited by Damascus to assist in counter-terrorism operations – and Iran – a nation that actually resides within the Middle East.
This incoherent, conflicting narrative contrasts with Russia and Iran’s clear-cut agenda of eliminating terrorists and preserving the territorial integrity of Syria, and their decisive, clear-cut actions to implement this agenda. Russia and Iran are also offering all shareholders in the region amble incentives to get behind this agenda – including the economic and political benefits that normally accompany national and regional peace and stability.
Washington’s War on Peace
Washington’s illogical and contradicting narratives undermine any notion of unified purpose in the Middle East. Even if its goal is regional hegemony, its multitude of failures and lack of incentives for allies undermine any chance of success.
In the absence of a sensible, unified purpose, attractive incentives, or a coherent strategic plan, the US has instead turned to spoiling reconciliation and reconstruction through attempts to divide the region along ethnic lines, preserve what few terrorists remain by shuffling them between Iraq and Syria through territory US forces occupy, and by targeting nations and their allies with sanctions to hinder reconstruction efforts.
Sanctions on Iran directly impact Tehran’s efforts to assist Syria and Iraq in reconstruction and the rehabilitation of their respective economies. So do US sanctions on Moscow.
The US is also targeting fuel shipments attempting to reach Syria – with Syria’s own oil production hamstrung by the ongoing illegal US occupation of Syria’s east where much of its oil resides.
AP in an article titled, “Syria fuel shortages, worsened by US sanctions, spark anger,” would report that:
Syrians in government-controlled areas who have survived eight years of war now face a new scourge: widespread fuel shortages that have brought life to a halt in major cities.
The article also reported that:
The shortages are largely the result of Western sanctions on Syria and renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, a key ally. But they have sparked rare and widespread public criticism of President Bashar Assad’s government just as he has largely succeeded in quashing the eight-year rebellion against his rule.
The combination of sanctions and deliberate attempts to prolong the proxy war in Syria illustrate Washington’s true attitude toward any notion of “responsibility to protect.”
Fuel will still reach Syria’s government and military where it is needed most – but will cause extraordinary suffering among Syria’s civilian population – as Washington explicitly intends.
Washington is not attempting to remove the government in Damascus to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people – it is causing immense suffering among the Syrian people to remove the government in Damascus.
While Washington has lost its war against Syria, it continues its war on peace. It will spoil attempts by Syria to move forward – and by doing so – and more than anything else – illustrating to the world that its own malign interests and agenda wrecked the region – not “ISIS” and not “Iranians” or “Russians.”
The US campaign of spite will continue onward both in Syria and across the rest of the region until an alternative regional and global order can be established that allows nations to sufficiently defend against US aggression and interference and enables the world to move on without those special interests on Wall Street and in Washington driving America’s current battle for hegemony.
Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.