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By Remaining in Syria the US Is Fuelling More Wars in the Middle East
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Seldom has an important new US foreign policy crashed in flames so quickly and so spectacularly, achieving the very opposite results to those intended.

It was only ten days ago that the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unexpectedly announced that American military forces would remain in Syria after the defeat of Isis. Their agenda was nothing if not ambitious: it included the stabilisation of the country, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, rolling back Iranian influence, preventing the resurgence of Isis and bringing an end to the seven-year Syrian war. Tillerson did not seem to care that this new departure was sure to offend a lot of powerful players in and around Syria and was quite contrary to past US pledges that it was only fighting in Syria to defeat Isis and had no other aims.

In effect, the US was reversing its old policy of trying to keep its distance from the Syrian quagmire and was blithely plunging into one of the messiest civil wars in history.

The first sign of this radical new development came early last week with an announcement that the US was going to train a 30,000-strong border force that, though this was not stated, would be predominantly Kurdish. This was furiously denounced by Turkey and Tillerson appeared to disavow it. But his speech spelling out the new interventionist American policy on 17 January was just as explosive and was the reason why, five days later, Turkish tanks were rumbling across the Turkish-Syrian border into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

A fertile and heavily populated pocket of territory, this is one of the few parts of Syria that had not been devastated by the war. But this is changing fast as Turkish bombers and artillery pound the town of Afrin and the 350 villages around it. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been fighting back hard, but unless there is some diplomatic solution to the crisis, the enclave will end up looking like much of the rest of Syria with whole streets reduced to mounds of smashed masonry.

The fighting over the last five days has exposed as a dangerous fantasy the US hopes that its new interventionist policy would stabilise northern Syria. Instead of weakening President Bashar al-Assad and Iran, it will benefit them, showing the Kurds that they badly need a protector other than the US. The Kurds are now demanding that the Syrian Army go to Afrin to defend it against the Turks because it is an integral part of Syria. A military confrontation between Turkey and the US would be much in the interests of Tehran and Damascus. The Iranians, denounced by the US as the source of all evil, will be glad to see America in lots of trouble in Syria without them having to stir a finger.

Yet the outbreak of a new Kurdish-Turkish war over the last week should have been very predictable. The US became militarily engaged in Syria in 2014 in order to prevent the capture of the Kurdish city of Kobani by Isis. American intervention in the siege was successful and was the beginning of an alliance between US air power and YPG ground troops that was to defeat Isis.

This development was deeply alarming for Turkey which felt threatened by seeing a well-armed, US-backed, de facto Kurdish state expanding along its southern frontier. Even worse, from the Turkish point of view, this new entity, known to the Kurds as “Rojava”, was controlled by the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been leading a Kurdish rebellion in Turkey for over 30 years.

The US had reassured the Turks that the American alliance with the YPG was purely military, tactical and directed against Isis. But, if the 2,000 US troops remain in Kurdish-held Syria, they change the military balance in the region because they are backed by the gigantic firepower of US Air Force. In effect, the US will be guaranteeing with military force the practical independence of a Kurdish state in northern and eastern Syria. Given the oppression and violence the Kurds have suffered in Syria and elsewhere, they have every right to seek a degree of autonomy close to national self-determination, but neither the Turkish nor the Syrian governments will accept this.

Up until now President Trump had made few changes in President Obama’s strategy in Iraq and Syria which was more forceful than it looked. But it was also cautious because Obama had an acute sense of what could go wrong in such ventures. He was careful not to overplay his hand or allow himself to be manipulated by regional powers.

The post-Isis US policy in Syria and Iraq coming out of the Trump administration has more far-reaching goals than before, but is vague on how they should be achieved. There is the same whiff of wishful thinking about Tillerson’s speech as brought about past US disasters in the Middle East.

Ominous precedents include Lebanon in 1983 where the US had a limited military presence in Beirut as a symbol of US power and determination. But a symbol can also be a target and on 23 October of that year a vehicle packed with explosives was driven into the US Marine barracks near Beirut airport and blew up, killing 241 US service personnel.

A similar self-destructive sense of self-confidence and superiority was very evident among the Americans occupying Baghdad in 2003. US generals believed that they were fighting the remnants of the old regime when, in fact, they were facing a mass uprising and soon only controlled islands of territory.

The US may want to get rid of Assad and weaken Iran across the region but it is too late. Pro-Iranian governments in Iraq and Syria are in power and Hezbollah is the most powerful single force in Lebanon. This is not going to change any time soon and, if the Americans want to weaken Assad by keeping a low-level war going, then this will make him even more reliant on Iran.


The present Turkish incursion shows that Ankara is not going to allow a new Kurdish state under US protection to be created in northern Syria and will fight rather than let this happen. But the YPG is highly motivated, well-armed and militarily experienced and will fight very hard, even though they may ultimately be overwhelmed by superior forces or because the Turkish and Syrian governments come together to crush them.

It was a bad moment for the US to stir the pot by saying it would stay in Syria and target Assad and Iran. A Kurdish-Turkish war in northern Syria will be a very fierce one. The US obsession with an exaggerated Iranian threat – about which, in any case, it cannot do much – makes it difficult for Washington to mediate and cool down the situation. Trump and his chaotic administration have not yet had to deal with a real Middle East crisis yet and the events of the last week suggest that they will not be able to do so.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. Talha says:

    past US pledges


  2. KA says:

    When the US promises are made, 2 schools are created. One who will guide the nation how to cheat and disregard it.The other will sow the seeds for the future promises ,cultivate, maintain the relationship of talking and the contacts,and shed some tears but will tell the counterparts not to lose hope ( They will says :US is not a typical country It has Congress Supreme Court Executive Branch , it has media, and it has another base that is the citizen .They all can scuttle the contratcs or a deal or throw a monkey wrench.” The counterparts is supposed to accept the variations as something like a revealed truth )so that fools can come back for the second third even 4th serving of deceit and lies .

  3. MEexpert says:

    They will says :US is not a typical country It has Congress Supreme Court Executive Branch , it has media, and it has another base that is the citizen .

    You forgeot the most important part; the Zionist Lobby (AIPAC). It is the lobby that counts. The other are incidentals.

    The author has found another group of Kurds that he can champion. This time in Syria.

    In effect, the US was reversing its old policy of trying to keep its distance from the Syrian quagmire and was blithely plunging into one of the messiest civil wars in history.

    The US has never had the policy of keeping the distance from Syria. Israel and its supporters in the US will never let the government do it. Israel wants a continuing chaos in the Middle East and Syria is the only place it can achieve that goal. Turkey is a useful idiot in this game and is doing United States’ bidding although it has some of its on interests as well. The US and Israel will keep this on until they can get Iran to get involved in the chaos. It is all up to Putin. How long is he going to wait before he takes some action or is he going to fold and calls his forces off. This will make him lose his face but I don’t think he wants to starts WWIII.

    Tillerson is in a bind. He has a boss who listens to Netanyahu/Kushner more than to his own advisors. That is why he gets his legs cut off from under him, every time he open his mouth. I feel sorry for him. He is the only decent and sensible man in the cabinet.

  4. I read Patrick Cockburn’s articles with interest but he often slips in subtle and not-so-subtle misrepresentations.

    In effect, the US was reversing its old policy of trying to keep its distance from the Syrian quagmire and was blithely plunging into one of the messiest civil wars in history.

    The US always had a policy of overthrowing the elected government of Bashar al-Assad and turning Syria into a failed state by first using its extremist AQ/IS proxy forces and then ensuring it could never be reconstituted by balkanizing Syria into various ethnic/sectarian statelets, including principally a Kurdish one. That policy has not been reversed at all, it’s only become more overt.

    This whole 7-year war against Syria, deceivingly characterized by Patrick Cockburn as a “civil war” that the US was “trying to keep its distance from”, was deliberately started by the US and repeatedly sustained and prolonged by the US.

    [Obama] was careful not to overplay his hand or allow himself to be manipulated by regional powers.

    Obama did allow himself to be completely manipulated by Israel, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and their various extremist proxy forces and false flag operations. This war was instigated and repeatedly sustained and prolonged under Obama and Hillary Clinton’s stewardship to serve long-time Israeli regional goals.

    Excerpts from the 1982 Oded Yinon plan three and a half decades ago:

    “The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon …”

    “Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and is already following that track.

    “Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”

    – Oded Yinon, 1982

    • Agree: yurivku
    • Replies: @Pat Kittle
  5. @Canadian Cents

    Surely Patrick Cockburn understands AIPAC war criminals & their Oded Yinon agenda in Syria.

    Yet he dares not utter a peep about them.

    Several reasons present themselves, none of which add to Cockburn’s credibility.

    • Replies: @Carlton Meyer
  6. @Pat Kittle

    Yes, the USA should not be in Syria, but is not there for “democracy” but because of orders from Israel. Mr. Cockburn knows this, and knows it not fit to print by someone earning a paycheck by reporting “news” in the USA. From my blog:

    Jan 29, 2018 – Israel’s “Safe Zone” is Creeping Farther into Syria

    This is the title of a new article in The Intercept, detailing Israel’s slow expansion into Syria by bribing and bullying. The US media refuses to cover this story, even though Israel openly announced plans for a 25 mile (40km) “security zone” into Syria last November.

    Syria’s Golan Heights were annexed by Israel many years ago and thousands of Israeli “settlers” now live there. Chaos in Syria allowed Israel to expand its border to Phase 1 two years ago, and the Phase 2 expansion is almost complete, guarded by Druze mercenary “border guards” backed by Israeli artillery and airpower. Reaching the 40km line may result in a direct confrontation with the regular Syrian Army, but Israel desires to reclaim even more “Biblical land.” This explains why “Assad Must Go” and why US troops and their Kurd proxy soldiers invaded eastern Syria.

  7. pb says:

    every patrick cockburn article has the same people saying the exact same thing everytime.

    just to put some context here that the commenters are ignoring, the people in the “assad must go camp” where not aiming for american weapons flowing to the “rebels/jihadis” they wanted a shock and awe campaign against Damascus itself, they wanted the syrian government completely extinguished.

    the current status of the conflict is defacto defeat of the zionist/nato/turkey/gcc goals.

    i hate obama, but he did pull back when the neocons where screaming their loudest, mostly because grass roots rightwingers were very against it, and they are generally support all wars.

  8. “achieving the opposite results”….Not really. The goal of US militancy is the destruction of functioning middle east societies. This is what is observed. So,” few parts of Syria not devastated by war”, it seems this observable policy is succeeding.. Those nations still standing, are just further down the list. Well, save the obvious one untouched. All else is obfuscation.

  9. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Here we go again.

    Use them and lose them.

    Obama is basically a ‘liberal Jew’, which means he says one thing but does another. He should also call himself a ‘honorary homo’ since he took it up the ass from globalists.

  10. Angusry says:

    Trump is Making ISRAEL Great Again ….. ISRAEL First. We are sending troops to Israel …. Israel wants the Latani river in Lebanon …. last time Israel invaded it got it’s ass kicked ….. now American troops will do the bleeding …………. All the stuff Trump does here is relative …. did you see the cameras pan right to Trump’s idiot daughter & Kushner as soon as Trump said “embassy & Jerusalem” in the SOTU?
    Picture how many muslum refugees will flood Europe when we turn Lebanon into another Iraq ….
    ) Israel grabbing Syrian land for “greater israel”, creating hell on earth while clearing enemy population from around it’s borders and —-
    (4) America, the “MASTERBLASTER” from the movie “Thunderdome” a giant moron ridden on and directed by Twisted Jewish Dwarves ……..
    Who PROFITS? Who benefits by clearing enemy populations away from their borders so it can steal land for “greater israel” while genocidally flooding CHRISTianity at the same time.
    Who BRAGS that they are behind this Invasion. NOTE how they call the muslums their ALLIES & BROTHERS

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