Trump’s Syrian Plans Increase Regional Instability

The news that the U.S. intends to build a 30,000 man army manned by locals in Syria’s northern region caused strong negative reactions from Turkey, Syria and Russia. There was some strong criticism from Congress about Trump’s plans for Syria, even before the news. There was even apprehension from Syrian Kurds who fear that the plan could cause disputes between Kurds and Arabs.

Tillerson’s plans for Syria are those of an empire whose principals believe they have the right to intervene in foreign countries on their own say-so and for their own ends, no matter what those at the receiving end have to say about it. Tillerson insists on the U.S. staying in Syria to assure Assad’s departure. He wants a U.S. presence to disrupt Iran’s plans or his perceptions of those plans. He thinks a U.S. presence will bring stability.

The U.S. plan means in effect a permanent U.S. presence inside Syria, if it goes through, because it entails continuous U.S. support. Turkey has vowed to strangle it, threatening invasion. Sooner or later, Assad will actively find means, military, political and other, to regain control of northern Syria as he is doing now in Idlib.

Tillerson has tried to dampen the reaction with a cover story. (See Juan Cole for further analysis.) He doesn’t deny the creation of the force. He denies that it’s a border force: “That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.” He claims it’s projected as an anti-ISIS force: “We have ISIS still attacking in parts of northwest Syria and along the Euphrates valley, so this is just more training and trying to block ISIS from their escape routes.”

His explanation or shift in description doesn’t hold water because anti-ISIS forces in those regions have already overcome major portions of ISIS forces without the formation of an army of the type being projected that would have permanent U.S. support and rely on permanent U.S. bases inside Syria. The defeat of ISIS as a state and territorial entity has largely been accomplished over the past 12 months. Furthermore, parts of the anti-ISIS forces in northern Syria could work with Assad against any remaining ISIS factions.

Assad has asked the U.S. to end its illegal presence and interventions inside Syria. Why is the U.S. even present in Syria uninvited? Why doesn’t it leave? The anti-ISIS justification proffered by Tillerson is not an answer that makes sense.

It is naive to think that the U.S. can restore or even has the primary aim of restoring a peaceful order in the land-locked region of northern Syria by eliminating ISIS. The situation in that region is very complex. There are frictions and divides among a number of groups: Turkey, the Syrian Kurdish YPG, the SDF, Turkish-backed rebels, al-Qaeda Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and ISIS remnants.

The U.S. is interjecting itself into a trouble spot and creating more trouble in its quest for its own foothold as it seeks a degree of leverage and dominance.

The U.S. appears to be following through on plans and activities launched months ago. I quote. “U.S. officials are in northern Syria laying groundwork for the administration of Raqqa. The SDF backs civilian governance structures there, and U.S. forces are training a militia to police the city. It is unclear how much control the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish political party, will have in these areas; in other Arab-majority areas the SDF liberated from the Islamic State, such as Manbij, PYD cadres are the ultimate authorities, and some suspect that Kurdish fighters will claim the territories they liberate for their de facto autonomous region known as Rojava.”

U.S. policy in the region is unclear. The State Department in August 2017 articulated a narrow aim: defeat IS and leave. But the Kurdish-led SDF, an ally, had a very different understanding of plans: “They [the U.S.] have a strategy policy for decades to come. There will be military, economic, and political agreements in the long-term between the leadership of the northern areas [of Syria)]” [and the US]. The U.S. military expressed a third view: “Our mission…is to defeat [IS] in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.”

Trump’s current plans as so far made public come closest to those of the U.S. military mission, namely, “operations to increase regional stability”. But to implement them requires a long-term U.S. presence. As in Afghanistan, a long-term U.S. presence is consistent with a long-term strategic policy and interest, which in turn is consistent with the behavior of an empire.

The initial negative reactions to these plans are strong, and they suggest an increase in regional instability. What makes U.S. planners think that they can achieve any sort of permanent stability by interjecting the U.S. military into the middle of a very complex situation of divided peoples, factions and governance?

What makes those who pilot our empire think they have the right to intervene anywhere they please? They say that they do it for the good ends that they imagine are their noble inspirations. They say that they do it expecting good results. They invariably assure us that they are acting humanely and righteously. They assure us that this is for own security as well as to make a better world.

Our aspirations and expectations do not, however, confer rights on us to intervene in the affairs of others. If they did, then we’d have to accept and approve of the rights of others to intervene in our lives. Do we accept their rights to do so? Of course not. If they have no such rights to invade our property, our lands, our ways and our lives, then neither do we have rights to invade theirs. Will lives be led as a free-for-all in which everyone may invade anyone else, or will we adopt civilized behavior in which we follow rules that respect the ways of others by not intervening in their political systems?

The U.S. undermined civilized behavior and rules when it attacked Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and when it supports attacks in Yemen, Ukraine and Syria. There was no national defense or national security justification for these attacks.


9:45 am on January 18, 2018