Why Are the US and Its Allies Losing Strategic Footing in Iraq and Syria?
After Iraqi Kurdistan’s debacle and the opening up of an Iranian overland bridge via Iraq to Syria, it can no longer be denied that the US and its allies are on a downward slope in Syria and soon in Iraq.
The Syrian Defense Forces (|SDF), were trained, armed and funded by Washington and led by the Kurdish YPG. Yet, after capturing ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, they find they are devoid of resources for buying a role in Syria’s future. Calling the shots are Russian- and Iranian-backed local and external minions, while America’s allies are in limbo.
How did this come about? DEBKA Weekly’s analysts point to some of the factors.
- The Trump administration never plainly set Bashar Assad’s removal from power as its primary goal in Syria. It was only vaguely suggested that Assad ought to be rid of at some time, but not necessarily at once. The impression therefore lingered that Washington would at the end of the road accept him. Moscow was allowed to use this uncertainty as a strong card for keeping Assad in office after the war was over, the only proviso being that he must share power with opposition factions in a transition administration up until elections. The Syrian opposition equated the Trump position with its acceptance of Russia’s domination of their country.
- President Donald Trump did not grasp President Vladimir Putin’s underlying scheme when he accepted their deal for de-escalation zones in Syria at their July 7 summit in Hamburg. The Russian leader ran off with that deal to rake in large swathes of Syria, directing Russian officers to court local political and military leaders and sweep them into Moscow’s orbit. Those officers are currently busy helping to set up functioning ruling administrations in the war-shattered regions under their control.
The Americans meanwhile stood by as the Russian sphere of influence kept on expanding, letting the areas held by US forces shrink to two pockets in the south and the north, their only tasks being to fend off immediate threats.
- The Trump administration not only downsized its presence in the Syrian arena, it also persuaded its allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, to gradually taper off their support for the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime. The rebels’ supplies of arms, funds, intelligence, training, medical assistance and logistical supplies have completely dried up, and the US managed to keep them from obtaining heavy arms of any kind, including anti-tank and anti-air weaponry.
In contrast, Russia pumped warplanes, helicopters and missiles and other advanced systems into Syria – both directly to Assad’s army and indirectly to his allies, the Shiite militias under Iranian command and Hizballah. Some pro-US rebel militias reacted by going over lock, stock and barrel to Assad, opting to fight under the Russian military and aerial umbrella and break their ties with the US and its allies.
- Washington was also backward in diplomatic initiatives for bringing the Syrian war to a political resolution. The only forum with US participation is the “Geneva conference,” which started convening in 2016 when Barack Obama was president. The US never objected to Moscow setting up its own track, the Astana conference, for Syrian government and opposition representatives to negotiate an end to the conflict.
The US administration figured that the two tracks would eventually interlock and complement each other. But this assumption did not take into account that, while Moscow’s allies were proactive at Astana, America’s partners, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, disapproved of the way things were going at the Geneva conference. And so, that track slowed to a crawl, while Astana roared ahead.
- The Trump administration’s Iran policy is plagued by a major inconsistency. There is a formal presidential commitment to counter Iranian expansion and Revolutionary Guards operations in Syria and Iraq. However, on the quiet, US forces are cooperating with the various Iranian-backed Shiite militias both in Syria and Iraq.
Three instances are worthy of mention:
American forces fought alongside the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is under Iranian Revolutionary Guards command, in the battles against ISIS in Mosul and Tal Afar in July and early August.
Shortly after that, US special operations units fought with the Syrian government’s army and Hizballah to drive ISIS from its strongholds on the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Even today, American troops are joining the Iraqi army and Shiite militias which are fighting the jihadists in the Anbar province of western Iraq.
America is paying a price for collaborating with its enemy on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
On Thursday, Nov. 5, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khkamenei declared for the umpteenth time that America is his country’s number one enemy.