It has long been assumed, though never overtly confirmed by the United States, that US troops plan to remain illegally on Syrian territory for an indefinite period of time, in order to use Kurdish proxies as a means to destroy the territorial and political unity of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Yesterday’s meeting of the Presidents of the Astana group, likewise confirmed that Russia, Iran and Turkey are now all in favour of preserving Syria as a unitary state with no internal divisions or otherwise Balkanised statelets.
This unity is now threatened by Washington’s failure to withdraw troops from Syria, something that was widely expected and feared. This reality has seemingly been confirmed by an ominous piece in the Washington Post.
Key elements of the piece read as follows,
“The Trump administration is expanding its goals in Syria beyond routing the Islamic State to include a political settlement of the country’s civil war, a daunting and potentially open-ended commitment that could draw the United States into conflict with both Syria and Iran.
With forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies now bearing down on the last militant-controlled towns, the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria could be imminent — along with an end to the U.S. justification for being there.
U.S. officials say they are hoping to use the ongoing presence of American troops in northern Syria, in support of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to pressure Assad to make concessions at United Nations-brokered peace talks in Geneva. The negotiations there are set to resume at the end of this month after sputtering along for more than three years without result”.
The piece from the Washington Post further states,
“An abrupt US withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival – an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally. To avoid that outcome, US officials say they plan to maintain a US troop presence in northern Syria… and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas”.
If the findings in the piece are accurate, it means that the US intends to essentially maintain a totally illegal colonial presence in Syria for “years” using Kurdish ethno-nationalists as the fig-leaf for plans which essentially seek to deprive Syria of its sovereignty and territorial unity and which will hinder economic re-development plans, including those from China which seeks to peacefully integrate Syria into One Belt–One Road.
Implicit in this plan is a US government that is willing to throw away what very little remains of its traditional partnership with Turkey. Turkey is not only dead set against a Kurdish statelet on its borders, but is opposed to Kurdish participation in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi and attempt to hammer out a lasting settlement between Syria and members of the so-called “opposition”.
As of yesterday, while Russia is moving towards a position of sympathy to Turkey’s views on the Kurds, there are still issues to be ironed out as I described in the following way:
“As for Turkey, Ankara still maintains sympathy for some of the sectarian Sunni so-called “opposition” in Syria, however, while Russia is willing to allow Kurdish militant groups to participate in dialogue with the Syrian government, Turkey is dead set against this.
For Turkey, the primary terrorist threat to the region are the pro-PKK Kurdish fighters currently operating in northern Syria. When Erdogan spoke of terrorism threatening OUR countries, he was clearly referring to Kurdish insurgents.
In this sense, there may be room for proverbial horse trading between Damascus, Ankara and Moscow. In return for Turkey dampening its support for crypto-Takfiri groups, Russia could, on behalf of Syria, move to a position that is more sympathetic to treating Syria’s Kurdish issue as a post, post-conflict problem, thus not allowing Kurdish agitations to become a point of contention at future dialogue sessions. In this sense, Russia could help Syria and Turkey to slowly normalise relations by de-emphasising any latent sympathies to the Kurds that still lingers in some Russian circles. This would be beneficial for Russia’s long term relationship with both Turkey and Syria, something that is frankly worth ‘losing’ clout among Kurds who have shown an almost blind wilful submission to their western and Zionist clients.
This of course will require supreme tact by all sides, but as Moscow is in a position to speak with both Ankara and Damascus, Moscow withdrawing any remaining sympathies with the Kurds, could be vital in helping Turkey to ease into a position wherein it acts as a restraining rather than an encouraging force in respect of the so-called “opposition” among which, Turkey continues to command respect.
In respect of Iran, one sees a power that has zero sympathies with any crypto-Takfiri “opposition” figures, but also one which is increasingly willing to cooperate with Turkey over Kurdish insurgents who threaten the peace and security of Iran and Turkey. Iran recently cooperated with Turkey in building a border wall designed to prevent Kurdish terrorists in Iran from supplying their compatriots in Turkey and vice versa. Iran and Turkey also jointly cooperated with Iraq in subduing ethno-naturalist Kurds in northern Iraq, in a mission that was both swift and successful.
In this sense, Iran can help to assure Syria that Turkey’s position in favour of crypto-Takfiris can and will be restrained, while Iran can also assure Turkey that Tehran will effectively communicate a message of genuine worry over Kurdish terrorism to Moscow”.
Now that it is all but confirmed that the US seeks to undermine Syria’s sovereignty and the joint peace process of Russia, Iran and Turkey, which Syria supports, the Astana Group, along with Syria must become more united than ever against a common threat–that of the United States and its Kurdish proxies. Here are some ways this can be accomplished.
1. Russia green lights Turkey’s anti-Kurdish manoeuvres in Syria
It has long been the case that Turkey’s primary motive for maintaining a strong troop presence in Idlib and parts of Aleppo Governorate, is for the purpose of restraining, containing and taking territory from Kurdish insurgents who have unilaterally occupied parts of Syria and set up shadow regimes.
While Russia had previously sought to include Kurds in a final settlement, because at this point, Kurdish militants and US imperialists are now largely interchangeable terms, Russia has all the more incentive to allow Turkey to do the ‘dirty work’ it has taken upon itself to do and neutralise the Kurdish threat to Syria.
If Turkey is able to neutralise Kurdish insurgents, the US would lose its fig-leaf for the continued illegal occupation of Syria. Because Iraq, with international support from both Iran and Turkey, crushed a would-be insurgency from Kurdish ethno-nationalists with comparative ease and in short order, there is an existing precedent for Kurdish insurgencies to fizzle-out when met with a strong united front on the battlefield.
Kurds in Syria, if left to their own devices would likely be rapidly destroyed by Turkish forces, especially if given a green light from Turkey’s other two Astana partners, Russia and Iran. This could also help pave the way for the eventual normalisation of relations between Ankara and Damascus.
The biggest problem here remains: will the US fight Turkey for the sake of its Kurdish proxies?
If the US were to truly go all-in for the creation of a would-be Kurdish statelet, it could mean war between two states which are still NATO members. This would almost certainly lead to Turkey withdrawing from the alliance, as it would permanently change the balance of power in the region and beyond.
Turkey has previously stated that if during its battles against Kurdish militants in Syria, Turkish troops were to accidentally fire on American targets, that this would be collateral damage that Ankara is willing to live with. While received wisdom at the time was that these remarks were intended to deter US support for Syrian Kurds, clearly this has not worked. Furthermore, no one should underestimate how seriously Turkey takes the issue of pro-PKK Kurdish insurgents on its border.
If Turkey is willing to engage the US and their proxies in Syria in the medium term, Russia and Iran could barely do anything to stop it from a military point of view, even if they wanted to. The difference is that Russia and Iran do not underestimate Turkey, although the US apparently does. The war in Syria would therefore become a conflict between Turkey and the United States, unless the US refused to back Kurdish militants being attacked by Turkey.
2. Russia convinces Turkey it can disarm Syrian Kurds and bring about a peace process in spite of US ambitions
With the US effectively stating its position vis-a-vis Kurdish militants, Russia could offer Turkey an alternative to fighting US proxies and possibly the US itself in Syria.
If Russia were to convince Turkey that by bringing Kurdish factions into the Syrian National Dialogue Congress and including them in the Astana peace process, that it could militarily neutralise Kurds and even draw them away from the US, this, if presented in a very careful manner, might convince Turkey that it is better to let Russia handle the Kurdish problem diplomatically than for Turkey and the US to sling it out on the field of battle.
If successful, drawing the Kurds into a peace process would also totally eliminate America’s already flimsy argument that the only reason Washington continues to illegally occupy Syria is to insure a peace process which covers the Kurdish question. As Syria had previously stated that it is willing to discuss internal grievances among Kurds in a de-militarised pots-war environment, if presented correctly to Syria, this could likewise placate Damascus while maintaining Russian prestige for the foreseeable future among both Syria and Turkey.
This could be a diplomatic way to take the remaining wind out of US sails while showing Turkey that it is Russia and not the US that has listened respectfully to Turkey’s legitimate concerns.
3. The Astana Group gives the US an ultimatum to quit Syria
While the word “ultimatum” sounds threatening, depending on the context in which it is presented, it needn’t be so.
Furthermore, this option is not mutually exclusive to the previous two scenarios. If the Astana Group effectively said that the US has no mandate in Syria and that one way or another, the issues regarding all self-identified factions in Syria, including the Kurds, will be dealt with by the Astana Group in line with UN Resolution 2254, it would deal another large blow to what very little remains of US prestige on a Syrian peace settlement.
While asking the US to leave Syria, something which Russia has effectively already done using firm yet diplomatic language, it would not guarantee a US exit. But if all of the elements of UN Resolution 2254 were satisfied in accordance with the wishes of all parties, the US would be clearly in Syria for no reason at all–even more so than it is at present and that is saying quite a lot.
This would have the effect of bringing wider public opinion against continued US occupation of Syria, including opinion among many Americans. This is after all what happened in the US war on Vietnam when both international and US public opinion turned fully against America’s presence in South East Asia.
Interestingly, both Russia and Turkey are using increasingly strong language to publicly call for a US withdrawal from Syria. Turkish Member of Parliament Metin Kulunk even recently stated that if the US remains in Syria, it will face a “new Vietnam”.
When it comes to the question of Turkey decided to run the risk of engaging the US militarily in Syria or else accepting a Russian political solution to neutralise the Kurdish threat, this will all be contingent on how much Russia can convince Turkey that Moscow is able to control the Kurdish problem. For the moment, Turkey is already going after Kurdish factions while the peace process continues simultaneously. The aggregate effect is to grind down Kurdish ambitions by effectively pinning them between a Turkish tank and the Astana Group’s collective diplomacy, all while Syrian Kurds will remember the defeat of their ethno-nationalist brethren in Iraq.
In either case, the US has isolated itself on the Syria issue, with all major powers calling for a US withdrawal. If the US believes that its Kurdish proxies can withstand the long-term force of total opposition to US manoeuvres in Syria, then Turkish MP Metin Kulunk is absolutely correct: the US will eventually face a new Vietnam in Syria, because they continue to forget the lessons of 1975.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.