When the US govt./deep state first decided that ‘regime change’ was necessary in Syria (circa 2006) – primarily as a way to hem in Iran – it decided (along with its Gulf allies and Israel) to use a proxy force of tens of thousands of jihadist mercenaries along with Kurdish factions to do the fighting with US-supplied weapons and training. The goal was to destroy the Syrian military, overthrow the democratically-elected Assad government and install a vassal administration. Cover for this imperial conquest was provided by initiating a ‘color revolution’ in 2011 that had little support among the Syrian people – Western media propaganda notwithstanding – and from there launch their proxy war.
By the summer of 2015 the project was close to achieving its aims; the Syrian Arab Army was severely pressed and on the brink of defeat. But in late September 2015, the Russian military intervened in the conflict and, over the last two years, routed Western-backed proxy forces and turned the tide decisively in favor of the Syria Arab Army, securing the Assad government in the process. One would have thought that having had its plans thwarted in Syria, the USA would bow out gracefully, but we’re talking about the ‘exceptional nation’ here, which neither knows nor recognizes defeat.
The reality of Russian involvement in Syria did, however, impinge upon the empire’s regime-change plot, and it was forced to fall back on a ‘plan B’ that involved using what was left of the proxy forces to annex as much of the northeast of Syria as possible with the intention to ultimately recognize it as an ‘independent state’, possibly Kurdish in name or perhaps a combination of Kurdish and other ‘rebel’ and tribal factions.
Earlier this month in a report by Sputnik News an unnamed senior Western official stated that Washington is planning ‘concrete steps’ toward providing a Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled area in northern Syria’s eastern Euphrates area (which is three times the size of Lebanon) with diplomatic recognition. In the last few days these reports have been confirmed by Col. Thomas Veale, public affairs officer of the US-led coalition “fighting against Daesh”, who said in an interview with The Defense Post that the coalition, supported by the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Force (SDF), was working to establish a 30,000-strong force to maintain security along Syria’s borders.
The use of the term “Syria’s borders” here does not mean Syria’s actual borders (with Iraq or Turkey or Jordan or Lebanon or Israel) but rather the new borders of a new enclave inside Syria that the US military plans to enforce.
A few days ago, acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield was questioned by the US Congress on US military/political intentions in Syria. When asked why the 2,000+ US troops (plus many ‘advisers’) would be staying in Syria with no legal mandate or invitation, Satterfield said that the US
“…would not leave Syria, would not declare victory and go … we’re going to stay for several reasons, for stabilization and assistance in the vital north and north east, protection of our allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces [jihadi mercenaries] who have fought so valiantly against ISIS [and sometimes with them] in the north east, try to work to transform the political structures in that area to a model for the rest of Syria and capable of being credibly represented in a new Syrian state, but for other reasons as well, including countering Iran, and its ability to enhance its presence in Syria.”
While Satterfield claimed that the goal is to have a NE Syrian territory “credibly represented in a new Syrian state”, no one should be under any illusions that if the US doesn’t get to control all of Syria (without Assad of course), it stands ready to unilaterally recognize the NE of Syria as fully independent. So much for Trump’s campaign promise to end “nation building”.
To their credit, several members of Congress questioned the strategy, with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee, voicing concern that the Trump administration does not have the necessary legal authorization from Congress to keep US troops in Syria beyond the defeat of IS. “It’s hard to understand your response with even the most broad views of [the existing war authorization] covering anything close to what you’re saying,” Cardin told Satterfield. Which is, of course, very true. Not only is the US presence in Syria in flagrant violation of international law, it’s also in violation of US law in the form of the War Powers Resolution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (now that ISIS poses no credible threat to the USA).
More problematic is a point raised by former US ambassador to Syria under Obama, Robert Ford, who said that the Iranian military presence and influence is concentrated in southern Syria, near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, rather than northeastern Syria, where most US troops are actually stationed. “It’s not clear to me that this troop deployment would meet the strategic objective of limiting Iranian influence in Syria in a way that is significant,” Ford told Al-Monitor. Ford believes the Trump administration’s endgame is likely geared more toward forcing the Assad regime to make concessions in an eventual political settlement than with actually confronting Iran.
The other small problem with the creation of an independent Kurdistan in NE Syria is Turkey. As people should know, Turkey has been engaged in a conflict with its Kurdish population for over 30 years. The very last thing the Turkish government wants to see is any semblance of a Kurdish state on its southern border in Syria that would, it believes, embolden Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Responding to the news of the US 30,000-strong ‘border force’ in Syria, made up mostly of Syrian Kurds, Turkish president Erdogan said that “Turkey will suffocate this terror army before it’s born.” What that means in practice is that the Turkish military will intervene in Northern Syria to prevent this force from consolidating a single autonomous region, including Afrin, along the Turkish frontier.
Meanwhile, the Russians plan to continue with the Astana peace process later this month, gathering together all legitimate interested parties to work out a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict. From the Russian and Syrian (and now Turkish) perspective, that settlement does not involve the USA, which was only ever in the country to ‘defeat ISIS’. Now that Russia has defeated ISIS, the USA should, naturally, go home. Also ‘naturally’, however, the USA seems determined to not only stay, but to antagonize the remaining Russian presence, as we saw with the recent swarm drone attack by ‘ISIS’ on its air and naval bases on Syria’s coast, an incident the Russians implicitly accused the Americans of carrying out.
There are various theories about what geostrategic interest the US hopes to serve by forcibly carving out a new state on Syrian land. Is it really about curtailing Iranian growing influence in the region? Is that even possible? Is it about oil and gas pipelines? Is it to protect the alleged ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ – Israel? All of these (and others) are reasonable hypotheses, but when it comes to US imperialism, gaining and holding on to ‘real estate’ around the world has always been an end in itself. There are no drawbacks for empire-builders in expanding an imperial footprint, it’s their raison d’etre, it’s in their blood, at least until they expand too far and the entire edifice comes crashing down.
Accepting the realpolitik of the ‘great games’ that have been played by empires since forever, and not wanting to be too squeamish or, heaven forbid, ‘social justicey’, there’s still something very obnoxious and unlikable about an American imperialism that assumes to itself an almost divinely-ordained mission to civilize and police the world. It would be one thing if America, as the newest global empire, actually kept such promises and increased global stability and prosperity. But that is clearly not the result of American intervention in other nations over the course of the past 70 years. Some might argue that imperial conquest, by definition, involves destabilization and destruction of the targeted nation, but Russian involvement in Syria and Ukraine, and Chinese economic ‘conquests’ everywhere, have shown, so far, that this need not be true. A ‘win-win’ scenario for the invader and the invaded is possible. Or, as the American Left is fond of saying, Another World is Possible.
You just have to avoid being a greedy, reckless, hypocritical and disingenuous asshole.