By Eric Zuesse | Strategic Culture
On July 26th, the US government abandoned its support of ‘the Syrian rebels’ who have been fighting to overthrow the Syrian government. The Syrian people want to get rid of them, and ‘the rebels’ will now have to leave the country and go back to the countries they came from. (Almost all of them came from other countries; but a few are Syrians.)
According to even Western polling firms that have — throughout the years of catastrophic war in Syria — scientifically sampled opinion among the Syrian people, the majority of Syrians have consistently wanted Bashar al-Assad and his secular Baathist Party to remain in power there, and the vast majority (over 80%) believe that the source of the tens of thousands of imported jihadists who have entered Syria to overthrow and replace that secular government (the ‘Assad regime’), is the US government, which provides the crucial training and backing for these jihadists.
On July 26th, CNN headlined «US tells local Syrian allies they must only fight ISIS and not Assad, prompting exit of allied group». This means that, for the first time since US President Barack Obama entered the White House on 20 January 2009 intending to overthrow Syria’s President Assad if that could at all be done, the United States government is now telling all of the ‘rebels’ whom it has been supporting to overthrow Assad, that they’ll no longer receive US assistance, unless they’ll fight only against ISIS in Syria — stop waging war against Syria’s government.
One rebel faction, according to the CNN report, «the Shohada Al Quartyan», promptly packed its bags and departed the US military base where they’d been staying, «opting to leave the base to carry out independent operations against Syrian regime troops several US and coalition officials told CNN».
They will likely be the first of many such groups who have been armed and trained by the US, who no longer will be; and this means that the jihadists who have been waging war in Syria to overthrow Assad, will now need to rely only upon America’s other allies there trying to overthrow him: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Turkey, and Israel.
Accompanying that printed CNN news-report is a CNN video interview with Robert S. Ford, who had served as America’s Ambassador to Syria during the crucial years 2010 to 2014, when America’s policy was to encourage the «Arab Spring» in Syria to overthrow Assad. Starting in 2012, the US government was arming and training Al Qaeda in Syria, and, even till the very end of Obama’s Presidency, Obama insisted upon there being no ceasefire in Syria unless Russia would stop bombing Al Qaeda there, and also not bomb the other jihadist groups that Al Qaeda was training in Syria (and which groups the US also supported).
Even when the earliest scientifically sampled US-allied poll was taken of Syrians and published on 2 January 2012, it found «Syrians are more supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign». (That poll was taken after the «Arab Spring» demonstrations against Assad had started.) However, since that poll was funded by UAE, which is part of the US alliance, the news-report for it was headlined instead «Arabs want Syria’s President Assad to go — opinion poll». That misleading headline was referring only to «Arabs» in other countries, not in Syria; and, because the finding amongst Syrians wasn’t what the royals of UAE had been hoping for and had commissioned the poll in the expectation of finding, the headline couldn’t refer to that finding; so, the news-report headlined the finding amongst non-Syrian Arabs, Arabs in other countries. Although it is possible that during the first few months of the «Arab Spring» demonstrations, there might have been a majority of Syrians who wanted the government to be overthrown, the tens of thousands of jihadists who poured into the country to overthrow it, became widely rejected (except in a few parts of the country), and the public rallied around the existing government, so as to avoid an Islamic state. (Syria has the Middle East’s only secular — non-sectarian — government.) Assad has been overwhelmingly the one person, the only person, whom most Syrians want as their President — and the US government and its allies have known this. US officials have known that what they’ve been saying about Assad’s popularity amongst his countrymen is false. They read the polls (or at least they’re supposed to), even if the American public don’t (or have maybe never even heard about the polling that’s been done in Syria).
Probably the main reason why US President Barack Obama was always opposed to democracy in Syria is that he knew what the polling there showed: that Assad would receive far more votes than any electoral opponent, in any honestly-run Syrian election.
US President Donald Trump’s policy in Syria is now, clearly, and, it seems, irrevocably, changed away from what Obama’s was. Finally, we’re no longer protecting, in Syria, Al Qaeda and its allied groups, as we had been doing.
The first real indication of this fundamental change-of-policy, occurred on June 27th, when US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at a news conference described an agreement that had been reached with Russia: «We deconflict with the Russians; it’s a very active deconfliction line. It’s on several levels, from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of state with their counterparts in Moscow, General Gerasimov and Minister Lavrov».
Then occurred the big breakthrough, on July 19th, when the Washington Post bannered, «Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow». The rabidly anti-»Moscow» newspaper (since «communism» is no longer available as an excuse to boost military spending for possible war against Russia) interviewed neoconservatives about this matter, and they all expressed opposition to this move by Trump.
With the US government having informed jihadist groups that unless they will fight in Syria only against ISIS, those groups will no longer continue to receive US assistance, the only foreign governments the jihadists might be able to continue to rely upon, henceforth, will be other members of the US-led coalition: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Turkey, and Israel. Whether that will be sufficient to keep the ‘civil war’ in Syria going, is questionable, especially because those nations are also, in various ways, opposed to each other. (For example, the Sauds have recently been trying to establish a blockade of Qatar.) Their marriage of convenience against Syria, Iran, and Russia, could end in one or more divorces amongst them all. Likely, the jihadists will soon start leaving Syria, in droves. They’ll no longer have US protection there; and a direct invasion by Saudi forces, etc., would (to put it mildly) not be welcomed by Syrians (nor by the Russians, nor by the Iranians), and would fail.
The US government has long known that in order to succeed in its plans, since 1949, to overthrow and replace Syria’s secular government, the US wouldn’t be able to do that via its own troops, but would need to rely instead upon, and provide the training and arming of, Islamic fighters who reject Syria’s secular government. US air power alone, without supporting troops on the ground, would inevitably fail. But now there won’t be any troops fighting on the ground in order to overthrow Assad. And, so, once ISIS is defeated there, the US will be militarily useless if it continues to occupy Syria. The US occupation of parts of Syria will thus end.
The best succinct discussion I’ve seen in military-strategic writings to explain why air-power (bombing) without being in support of, and coordinated with, forces that are fighting on the ground, always fails, was given in William S. Lind’s 13 September 2014 «The View From Olympus: Another Strategic Failure», in which he cited examples to show why «For an air campaign to be effective, it must act in cooperation with competent ground forces». He noted: «We will supposedly create effective allies on the ground through American training. Has anyone else noticed that all the armies we train lose, starting with South Vietnam?» He took account of the cruciality of the motivations of the contending forces who are fighting on the ground, and said that, «air attack has its usual effect of pushing those under bombardment closer together while giving them a burning desire for revenge against enemies they cannot reach», and then he concluded that, «failure is as guaranteed as anything in war can be», when relying on proxy-troops in order to carry out an invasion by means of only air bombardment. And, of course, this has been shown true not only by Barack Obama, but by George W. Bush, and even by Richard M. Nixon. Lind is perhaps the major living military strategist, which is a reason why the great military historian, Martin van Creveld, titled his 2015 book A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind. (That work is intelligently reviewed here.) But, if Obama wasn’t able to win with all those proxy-troops on the ground, then what is the likelihood that Trump could win by no troops on the ground — not even the jihadists that Obama was protecting? Would President Trump then send in US troops? He recognizes — if he recognizes anything at all — that Muslims are not likely to welcome an invasion of their land by Christians. Of course, Trump might be even stupider than he is commonly assumed to be, but, frankly, I doubt that he’s that stupid.
And what would happen if, for example, the Sauds conscripted their citizens to invade Syria, and President Trump decided to back (via US bombers) their invasion? Could the Sauds then prevent their own being overthrown by the domestic blowback? And, then, could Trump?
And, that’s why I conclude that America’s long war against Syria ended quietly on July 26th. The war will go on for a while more, but no longer with boots on the ground that are protected by the US against bombardment from the Syrian and Russian governments’ forces, and against the Syrian army’s attacks on the ground. Trump has already shown, via his actions, that he’s not willing to go to the brink of WW III in order to play a game of chicken with Putin over a war in Syria where Trump is an alien invader, and Putin is an invited and much appreciated defender, and where Trump doesn’t have even the proxy ground-troops (imported jihadists fighting to overthrow Assad) that Obama did and was providing US air-power to protect in Syria.
For example: the Vietnam War, also, ended with no surrender, but instead with the winner not publicly declaring victory, and with the loser not publicly acknowledging defeat. That’s as quiet as any nation’s defeat can get. And, it’s the best result that Trump can obtain. And — thus far — he’s taking it. But, we won’t know for sure, until ISIS in Syria is completely defeated, and the US either announces ‘success’ there and departs; or, else, the US tries to stay in Syria in order to ‘defend’ the Kurds’ claims on and against sovereign Syrian territory, to establish a new nation, of Kurdistan (which would be rejected by Turkey and could cause Turkey to quit altogether its alliance with the US and NATO — a collapse of «the Western Alliance», an end to the American empire).
The crunch won’t come until ISIS is gone from there. Only then will we learn what type of man Donald Trump really is.
On July 28th, Trump replaced Reince Priebus with former General John F. Kelly as his new Chief of Staff. A year earlier, on July 12th, Stripes.com had headlined «Ex-Gen. Kelly to top brass: Stay out of the ‘cesspool of domestic politics’», and reported Kelly’s views of whether to escalate America’s troop-commitment in Iraq. He was quoted, «‘You’re not going to win this thing by dropping bombs on these people,’ he said, adding that neither presidential candidate was willing to acknowledge that the sustained ‘victory’ they promise would likely require a large number of US and coalition troops deployed to Iraq for decades to come». If Trump didn’t know that sort of thing previously, he presumably will learn about it now. And, for Trump to invade Iraq after having won the White House by saying that he had opposed George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, would reduce his political base even further. For him to invade Syria even more directly than Obama had done, would, likewise, virtually end Trump’s political support. Besides that: it would produce a very loud and public military defeat. A quiet defeat is politically far preferable.