Moon Alabama — Sept 7, 2018
Today the United States officially announced a new policy in its war on Syria. It is an equivalent to the three step business plan (vid) of the underpants gnomes:
The new U.S. plan is to 1. keep north-east Syria indefinitely occupied, 2. ???, 3. Iran leaves Syria and the ‘regime’ in Damascus falls:
President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.
Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.
The first major step of the “diplomatic push” is to prevent the imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Idlib province:
While the United States agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there . . . to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting . . . they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, [U.S. special representative for Syria James] Jeffrey said. Instead, the United States has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.
“We’ve started using new language,” Jeffrey said, referring to previous warnings against the use of chemical weapons. Now, he said, the United States will not tolerate “an attack. Period.”
Jeffrey just visited Turkey. The intent was to stiffen Turkey’s objection to the upcoming Idleb attack. The result was a plan that the Turkish president Erdogan presented today at the Tehran summit with President Putin of Russian and President Rohani of Iran. It included:
- prolongation of the de-escalation ceasefire
- 12 armed groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to be disbanded
- Turkey will train a new rebel force to control Idleb under Turkish command
- Groups who resist will be targeted in counter-terrorism operations
The plan is nonsense. It is a copy of the task list Erdogan was given when the de-escalation zone in Idleb was established at an earlier summit in the Astana format. Erdogan failed to implement it. HTS still rules Idelb province. HTS still rejects to dissolve. The observation posts Turkey established around Idleb still depend on the goodwill and protection of HTS fighters.
Erdogan has no way to implement his plan. Accordingly, today’s summit in Tehran ended with a mealy-mouthed statement. It failed to come up with a common way forward for Idleb.
Syria and its allies Russia and Iran should proceed with their plans to cleanse Idleb of terrorist. The U.S. is bluffing. It has no realistic means to prevent the operation. Any U.S. attack on Syrian and Russian forces involved in it would likely escalate into a conflict between nuclear powers. That is a risk the U.S. military is unwilling to take. It knows that the forces it planted into Syria are vulnerable to attacks.