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US Military Pullout from Syria: Declaring Victory To Hide Near Total Defeat – 2 – Changing Balance of Forces in Syria Has the U.S., Turkey Scurrying …

December 26, 2018
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This is a response to an old friend and companero, Jay Jurie, now living in Florida but from Pueblo, Colorado, concerned about the fate of the Kurds in Syria given the US withdrawal of troops from the eastern region of that country.  Almost a half century ago, we were arrested together for our anti-Vietnam War activities at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus. Jurie went on to get his phd and has spent a career teaching at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He’s still there teaching. I’ve learned more about Florida politics from reading his occasional commentaries than from the mainstream media.  

In response to Jay’s questions concerning the difficult situation the Kurds find themselves in northeastern Syria, I first posted an article by Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar; below are detailed my personal impressions.

Finally I would add that this whole subject will be dealt with in considerable detail in the next KGNU Hemispheres “Middle East Dialogues” hosted by Jim Nelson on January 22, 2019 for an hour by which time some of the current mysteries will have become clearer. 

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Jay Jurie – secondly, my personal impressions…

Jay, once again, the situation is moving very quickly and is fluid, so fluid that it is difficult to follow and make sense of the process. So to the main points…the U.S. pull out of its troops from Syria is a positive step, nothing less,..although it appears that US bombing will continue and there is now talk of the possible entry of Blackwater type mercenaries in Afghanistan (and also possibly Syria) as well as the US sending Saudi troops (whom by the way historically aren’t worth a sh-t) to replace them. But for Syria, the reduction in the US presence in the eastern third of the country has got to be viewed as a positive development, and not just for Syria, but for regional and even world peace… it greatly reduces what looked like was shaping up – a U.S.- Russian military confrontation there.

By withdrawing the troops, Trump has reduced that eerie possibility (although it has been argued it is a tactical retreat so that the U.S. can concentrate its energies on pressuring Russia, centering on the Ukraine, which is what I think). In Washington’s case it is always useful to reshape the old dictum “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” with “the road to hell is paved with insidious, imperialist intentions”…For Washington the removal of troops from Syria is a tactical withdrawal, an admission of defeat in its plans to partition the country…combined with an attempt to refocus its imperialist ambitions elsewhere – directing its energies more directly against Russia and China.

Concerning the Kurds…first it is necessary to put their situation in context of the overall situation in Syria, ie, the U.S. failed attempts to partition the country and the increasingly successful Syrian government efforts to regain territory lost to ISIS, al Nusra and other mercenary elements.

The Bhadrakumar piece I just sent you gives what I consider to be an objective analysis of their situation…

Bottom line – Trump deals with big powers – could care less about what he considers to be minor (or Third World) countries, social movements. After some strains between Turkey and the U.S. he is trying to draw Turkey away from Russia and Iran – the direction that Erdogan, no shrinking democratic flower, has been moving over the past two years. Both Turkey – one of the main backers, supporters, funders of ISIS like groups in Syria – and Washington are both doing is to simply re-position themselves regionally given that the forces they supported have lost on the battlefield.

So now is the time for a tactical shift…In both cases it means abandoning the reactionary Islamic militant forces they supported in the first place (add to the US case besides the above, the Kurds) and as the saying goes “throwing them under the bus”. In fact one of the major problems for the U.S., Turkey, Saudi, UAE and that (not so) great reactionary alliance trying to partition Syria is what to do with all these Islamic mercenary fighters they have put in motion in the first place! Turkey is trying to play the innocent bystander, but it was one of the major backers of these elements, who actually, would have had no life without U.S. arms and advisers, Saudi money, Turkish training.

There are essentially two areas of Syria that the Syrian government will fight to retain – one is that region east of the Euphrates River from where the US troops will be withdrawn. It sits on the border with Iraq. The US withdrawal from the area will, after it is pacified, enhance Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian trade and is also apart of the Chinese Belt and Road Project between China and the eastern Mediterranean. The second region is in the northwest region of Turkey, Idlib province.

For some time now, the Syrians, with Iranian, Russian, Hezbollah support have been preparing a major military offensive to rid Idlib of the Islamic mercenaries still holed up there, the number of which have been given as anywhere from 30,000-100,000 in number. There is little doubt that the Assad government will win that military contest, liberating the region, returning it to the Syrian national fold, although it will be a messy military affair. The great Turkish fear – and it is exactly that – is that faced with the Syrian military offensive in Idlib – that these mercenary elements will retreat back into Turkey itself, on whose border Idlib Province is found. Turkey knows that it cannot control those elements and it has negotiated long and hard with both Russia and Iran to press Syria not to begin military operations in Idlib until Erdogan could figure out where to relocate these murderous elements. Problem is that nobody wants them – not the Afghans or Pakistanis, not the Saudis and not the Turks.

The great Turkish fear – and it is exactly that – is that faced with the Syrian military offensive in Idlib – that these mercenary elements will retreat back into Turkey itself, on whose border Idlib Province is found. Turkey knows that it cannot control those elements whom in the past it recruited, armed, financed and trained. Ankara has negotiated long and hard with both Russia and Iran to press Syria not to begin military operations in Idlib until Erdogan could figure out where to relocate these murderous elements. Problem is that nobody wants them – not the Afghans or Pakistanis, not the Saudis and not the Turks.

Without any proven intelligence, after all I am sitting here in Denver, my sense is that Syrian patience over Idlib has run out and a military offensive there will soon begin. There has been virtually no discussion of this in the U.S. media other than some deceptive articles suggesting ISIS in Idlib is a benign ruling force (which is nonsense), that Idlib city is, under ISIS-al Nusra rule a kind of multi-cultural paradise, yet another false narrative trying to build opposition for the Syrian offensive. Nor do I know in detail what complex arrangements have been worked out between the Assad government, Russia, Iran and Turkey over how the military operations will be conducted and what will be the result (other than it will return completely to Syrian national authority) – although I am certain such negotiations have taken place and continue to do so. 

I find it curious that just as the offensive against Idlib was shaping up that “out of nowhere” – or seemingly, that Trump decided to pull U.S. military personnel from eastern Syria andn offer extensive concessions are offered to the Turkish Erdogan government in exchange for Turkey remaining in NATO and the Incirlek military base remaining open to U.S. military personnel and intelligence. Erdogan is going to take a serious political blow in Idlib Province, but will be able to gain a bit of regional prestige and pan-Turkish expansionist propaganda by getting the green light from Washington to invade northeastern Syria under the pretext of defending its borders against Kurdish militants.

As the Bhadrakumar piece suggests, whatever green light Washington is giving to Erdogan and Turkey to invade northern Syria, that this will be tempered by Turkish negotiations with Russia and Iran. The idea that Turkey will “fill the vacuum” created by the U.S. withdrawal is exaggerated. The more I think about it, Turkish military options in Syria will be limited. Furthermore, Turkish military presence in Syria will unite the Syrian government forces with some of those same Kurdish elements that up until now the U.S. (and Israel) have been backing. Nor will a Turkish incursion into Syria, with its memories of the Ottoman Empire, play well throughout the Arab world.

The Kurds

The narrative spun in the mainstream media here is that a Turkish military incursion into northern Syria will be a human rights disaster for the Kurds, and more twisted, that the U.S. is in the region to protect the Kurdish minority there. The twisted logic continues – that is even supported by the likes of Noam Chomsky and Democracy Now! – that the U.S. troops on the ground should stay put in Syria east of the Euphrates River to protect the Kurds from an impending slaughter. (1)

Put another way, as it was done to justify the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, the U.S. orchestrated 2012 invasion of Libya, the specter of “humanitarian intervention” is once against being pushed hard by the American media – and in this case both neo-conservative Republicans and Clinton Democrats alike – to justify the continued illegal (by international law) U.S. military occupation of eastern Syria. Further despite everything, its military defeat in Syria included, the Trump Administration like those it followed, has not given up on partitioning Syria…just going about it by other means.

Put another way, as it was done to justify the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, the U.S. orchestrated 2012 invasion of Libya, the specter of “humanitarian intervention” is once against being pushed hard by the American media – and in this case both neo-conservative Republicans and Clinton Democrats alike – to justify the continued illegal (by international law) U.S. military occupation of eastern Syria. Further despite everything, its military defeat in Syria included, the Trump Administration like those it followed, has not given up on partitioning Syria…just going about it by other means.

It is impressive how the same worn out, pathetic lie that was put forth to justify U.S. military intervention  – the impending genocide of Kurds by the Turkish invading forces – can be swallowed by so many, so quickly and so repeatedly. It seems to work like a charm every time.

As I have repeated elsewhere, the main reason that the United States is withdrawing troops both from Syria and Afghanistan is that in both cases, the U.S. plans in both cases have failed. In the Syrian case, the momentum to partition the country either de jure or de facto has collapsed. The withdrawal of U.S. military forces from that country is simply acknowledging the facts on the ground. It is a case of damage control. Donald Trump might be doing so inelegantly as his style, but a Democratic President would have been faced with the same realities and sooner or later would have done the same thing. 

The Kurds, like the Palestinians are the main victims of the Sykes Picot Agreement of 100 years past, that carved up the region to the benefit (then) of British and French imperialism, with the US getting a little finger in the region (to be later expanded). In the Palestinian case, the British and then the U.S. position was strengthened by the growing strength of the Zionist movement which was an arrow in the heart of Palestinian nationalism and its goal of an independent Palestinian state. In the Kurdish case, the region in which the Kurds were a majority of the population was divided between four countries – Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran (and actually several others probably). There is also the little publicized fact that as the Turks were slaughtering Armenians during World War II, a great deal of the dirty work – some of the worst crimes committed – were done by then, Turkey’s Kurdish allied population. Others might have forgotten this, but I doubt the Armenians have.

Post WW2, the Kurdish dream for autonomy, a state of their own, some kind of independent cultural and political existence, has been stymied by the nationalist aspirations of the countries in which they found themselves and their fate in all of these countries has fluctuated rather violently between cooperation and opposition. The Syrian Kurds have had several positions since the onset of the 2011-2012 war in Syria. For the most part, contrary to the current narrative, they have stood with the Assad government against the ISIS-al Nusra (and the like) onslaught. Certainly how the Syrian government deals with their Kurdish population – what political posture the Kurds would have within the Syrian national reality – will be one of the key issues in any political settlement.

Through its extensive contacts with Iraqi Kurds both the U.S. Special Forces in tandem with Israeli military and intelligence elements, have worked the Syrian Kurdish population that straddle the Syrian-Israeli border. Some of those elements, armed and somewhat protected by Washington, have become the new American proxies in Syria. But their situation is quite complex for these Syrian Kurds now find themselves aligned with, if not in cooperation with, other U.S., Saudi, Turkish proxies – ie, ISIS, al Nusra the different Islamic mercenary front groups the Turks are supporting, very tenuous alliances to say the least.

There is another factor that comes to play here. Many of the Kurdish factions, besides having ties with the United States and Israel also are in close contact with the Ruissians, a contact that has also spanned decades.  While it seems that the Russians are not necessarily opposed to a Turkish incursion into northern Syria, now they are negotiating with the Turks on behalf of the Kurds in the vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal. Some deal is being worked out. What could it be? I don’t know frankly but suspect that the Russians are pressing the Turks to limit their Syrian incursion geographically and not to extend it beyond a certain point. While there should be no allusions concerning Turkish military goals – and its desire to ethnically cleanse the Kurds from its border regions, such an operation will not be so easily achieved, especially if Turkey wants to maintain – as I believe it does – its alliances with Iran and Russia, and ultimately beyond that, begin to improve its ties with Assad’s Syria.

Still, the situation in Syria remains explosive…two military offensives appear imminent, a Syrian military offensive in Idlib Province backed by Russia and Iran and a Turkish offensive targeting the Kurds on Syria’s northeastern border given a green light by the Trump Administration. Despite all the complex deals being cut at the moment between all the parties, needless to say, the possibilities of controlling the violence according to previously agreed to political wheeling and dealing in the aftermath of the Kashoggi murder leaves all kinds of possibilities for a dangerous escalation of regional war.

A tense moment filled with all kinds of complications in the making.

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1.  I have great respect for Chomsky and am a regular viewer of Democracy Now! which I enjoy. However, I disagree with both of them on Syria and think their reporting on the conflict there has been disappointing, and frankly off the mark. No, I am not going to stop watching Amy Goodman and think that this talk of Chomsky being some kind of “gatekeeper” is rubbish… for whatever reason – and I have my own unproven hypothesis as to why they have swallowed this particular brand of “humanitarian interventionist cool aid “they’re wrong about Syria and can’t see the forest through the trees on this… and it makes their Syrian reporting and analysis very weak.

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Part One, Three, Four

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