Drifting sands: America’s strategy in Syria

By Patrick BAHZAD


As the war in Syria is entering a new phase, the US will have to deal with issues that will prove very difficult to incorporate into a single comprehensive strategy.    

There was an eerie sense of déjà vu about yesterday's statement by Secretary of State Tillerson. The kind of same old, same old speech about issues, challenges and threats, not necessarily related, and grand objectives of US foreign policy. But the most basic question as to what the United States wants to do with Syria, and what it wants for the Middle-East in general, remained unanswered. Obviously, it doesn't take a genius to figure out this administration is on course for containment and roll back of Iranian influence in the region. But wishful thinking and circumstantial alliances with unreliable partners don't make a strategy, they just make up a recipe for yet another disaster.

War in Syria has entered a new, decisive phase, that much is clear. The so-called "Islamic State" has been defeated as a political entity, in Syria as well as in Iraq. And, as could also be expected, it has already started to morph back into an insurgency, alas of global proportions this time, and will soon re-emerge not just in the Middle-East, but in areas where we didn't encounter its black banner before. The ambush that targeted American Special Forces in Mali, in late 2017, bears testimony to this trend.

Jihad Incorporated is expanding, despite the massive blow it was dealt in Mosul and Raqqa. The costs of the military operations against IS are high though, and there will be a price to pay for the way local forces conducted operations. Huge refugee camps have been established. Cities were levelled to the ground. Reconstruction is in tatters. This is a fertile breeding ground for any insurgency and the Jihadi shape shifters will try and take advantage of those circumstances.

While Syria currently looks worse off in that regard than Iraq, appearances are misleading. IS' centre of gravity has always been Iraq. The Syrian adventure, while it may have favoured IS' expansion by providing safe havens and strategic depth to the Jihadis, was more of a welcome sideshow. They would have taken Damascus if they had had a chance to, but they didn't. They wanted Baghdad, and had it not been for the separate efforts by the Coalition on the one hand and – let's not forget this – by the Iranians on the other, they might have reached it. Today, there are leftovers of the group in Syria (Hama, Deir Ezzor and Hasakah), but it's in Iraq that the new insurgency has the best chances for a comeback.  

This time around, we have decided to stay. Avoid the mistakes of the 2011 withdrawal and use our assets on the ground to prevent an ISIS 3.0. Do we have the willpower though ? Do we have the stamina to do what is necessary to avoid such a development ? It is not just a question of leaving a few thousand Marines in bases in Anbar, build-up a Kurdish border guard in Syria or carry on with yet another version of the "train and equip" programs that have cost us billions already. War is a dialectic of wills. And over the long run, it does not look like we are aware of the actual balance of power in the region or the odds we are up against. But short of knowing what we are facing, how can we even be prepared for the huge efforts we would need to undertake for the policy objectives to be reached ?

The current war in the Middle-East isn't just a war like any other. It has multiple players involved, some of them non-State actors, whose interests might vary according to changing circumstances and alliances. It has sponsors that use this theatre of operations as leverage for other areas, willing to trade-off some advantage here against a compromise elsewhere. And it is taking place in a region whose social, economic and political fabric has been torn apart by 15 years of relentless conflict. Today, we are  witnessing the last phase of the Syrian civil war as we have known it since 2011. In the end, Assad has managed to remain in power, courtesy of his Russian and Iranian allies who put in the necessary manpower and resources to overcome a conglomerate of rebel forces whose sponsors, both in the West and in the Gulf, never managed to agree on what it was they were fighting for. Yes, they were fighting against the regime, but what did they have in mind to replace it with ? Nobody knows exactly, even to this day.

As before, we had no proper strategy. No clearly established blueprint for what we wanted to achieve and how, or what contingencies we needed to cover if – as is usually the case – things didn't go as planned. In that regard, the biggest shortcoming in the Western approach to the civil war in Syria was not the backing of the so-called moderate rebels. As a policy choice, it may have been questionable and possibly dangerous. But, whatever … The real issue is that backing those rebels was seen primarily as means to achieve a political settlement. The only debate was about the level of military, diplomatic and economic pressure that needed to be applied so Assad would finally sit down at the negotiation table and agree on a settlement ousting him and his clan.

Arming the rebels and escalating the war was never seen as anything else but a way to gain leverage. And when the other side decided to call our bluff and escalate militarily way beyond anything we were prepared to go for, we hit the glass ceiling. For years, we had supported rebels and sent them to their deaths in the hope this might force our adversary to negotiate. What a strategic blunder ! Assad would not negotiate, he even said so. The Iranians were not going to negotiate and the Russians would only agree on terms so unfavourable to us, that they could hardly be seen as an achievement of any sort. But that phase of the war will soon be over. The fate of IS in Eastern Syria is sealed. That of the rebels in the South is a done deal. There will be violence here and there, it may last for months, even years maybe. Look at Lebanon after its civil war. Look at Northern Ireland, if you want an example closer to home. The end didn't come abruptly, in neither case. And in both countries, authorities coped for years with what might have been dubbed an "acceptable level of violence".

This leaves the Idlib area as the only remaining battlefield in the current war. Are there any doubts though as to the probable winners and losers in that battle ? The SAA may not be able to conduct major offensive operations simultaneously on two fronts, but now that it is done with IS in Deir Ezzor and Abukamal, it definitely has the ability to finish the job in Idlib in similar fashion. Much has been said about foreign Shia militias making up for numbers among Assad's forces. And it is true, there is a sizeable portion of Afghan, Lebanese and Palestinians fighters among the regime's troops. The Iranian IRGC also has advisers on the ground and the Russians rule the skies above Idlib. But the SAA is still Syrian in essence. Most of its men are Syrians and so is the vast majority of the casualties. Besides, the various Salafi-Jihadi outfits in and around Idlib are mostly made up of Syrians too.

Anyway, whether it is going to take weeks or months, whether there will be deals with this or that faction (and there probably will), in the end, Assad is going to prevail and take Idlib, even if in name only. That will be the end of the Syrian civil war and something entirely new, the premises of which we are witnessing today, is going to take over. For the entire North-East of the country, the Kurdish controlled Rojava, will become the main focus of that coming phase, together with border areas to Iraq and, to a lesser degree, Turkey. This is where the US is going to enter uncharted territory.

From that point of view, the most contentious point is related to the allies we've picked – Syrian Kurds – in our current effort against IS and the future attempts at containing Iranian influence. How on God's earth we  managed to come up with a plan that entails siding with the Middle-East's eternal losers (no offence to Kurdish readers), in order to try and check a regional juggernaut, is beyond me. To make things worse, the US is going for such a policy perfectly aware of the risks involved with regard to Turkey. Talk about a superficial attempt at reshaping alliances in the region, with a hypothetical rapprochement between Saudi-Arabia and Israel as regional force multipliers of American power versus the combined interests of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, to name but the major players.

Again, war is a dialectic of willpower. In this war, or conflict of interest if you like, it's the toughest, most determined, most patient side that is going to get the upper hand. A change of direction at any fork in the road is not going to cut it. Look at Iraq. The US wanted Saddam out and thereby handed over the country to Tehran. Look at Syria. The goal was to oust Assad. Now Assad is going to stay and Russia has gained a foothold in the region like never before since 1956. Look at Iran. The not so clearly stated objective is to roll them back, with the help of Kurdish militias that are hostile to Turkey, the other regional superpower and a NATO member …

A winning hand ? Definitely not. A sound strategy ? I don't think so. Actually I'm not even sure it qualifies as a strategy. American foreign policy looks adrift in the region. Watch out for the quicksand !

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64 Responses to Drifting sands: America’s strategy in Syria

  1. LeaNder says:

    thanks, Patrick Bahzad. Highly appreciated.
    One early paragraph reminds me of comments by Pat concerning Afghanistan. Another one towards the end I have to take a second look at. 😉

  2. LeaNder says:

    That will be the end of the Syrian civil war and something entirely new, the premises of which we are witnessing today, is going to take over.
    Let me guess. I am sure I will fail. But here goes anyway: A failed enclave within the not managed to fail state?

  3. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Very glad to see you back. Excellent analysis as usual. Hope someone with decision-making powers will read and understand the real reality.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  4. Huckleberry says:

    Seems like the opportune moment to Make Istanbul Constantinople Again (or at least create a safe space for the inevitable repatriation of African migrants/invaders from Europa:
    (1) Start sending the “refugees” back overland through Greece.
    (2) As the Ottomans attempt to block, encourage Kurds in Turkey to engage in, uh, “civil disobedience.”
    (3) Declare a humanitarian crisis and cross the Greek border area to “protect human rights.”
    (4) – optional – Maybe as a sweetener we can get someone on the inside to fake a gas attack (maybe against the Ottoman’s transgender Jewish population) and then we just start calling Erdogan “Hitler.” It didn’t work last time in Syria, but that’s no reason to abandon the playbook.

  5. JJackson says:

    Welcome back to posting!
    Listening to Tillerson one could be forgiven for thinking the US had defeated IS and the SAA & Russia were not involved. He also seemed convinced that any free election in Syria would automatically eject Assad but it was unclear who or what he thought would replace him. I am having a problem thinking of anyone who might win who the US would not set about trying to regime change.

  6. Jonathan House says:

    Welcome back! And thanks for this post.

  7. sid_finster says:

    All of the predictions that the naysayers made with regard to Iraq in 2003 have since come to pass, along with none of the neocons’ predictions.
    What makes anyone think that they have learned anything since then?

  8. turcopolier says:

    the Tillerson manifesto requires a defeat of Assad by electoral mean since evicting him by force has not proved possible. I think he would win a fair election. pl

  9. WJ says:

    If the corporate media presented anything near the kind of analysis found on this site, Moon of Alabama, and one or two others–doubtless soon to be rendered practically inaccessible by our new and improved throttled internet–the American populace would have months ago begun to demand the withdrawal of our troops in Syria, an investigation into the US/UK funding and training of the very ISIS we those governments claimed to be fighting, and a thorough rethinking and questioning of the entirety of our post 9/11 foreign policy, particularly insofar as driven by a narrow but powerfully influential strain of political Zionism and, dare I say it?, the agents of a foreign state (not, ahem, Russia). But this is doubtless why Col. Lang and the few others worth reading on foreign policy are never given editorial columns in the Post or Times, or invited to debate on CNN, or awarded with cushy posts at Beltway think tanks.
    The analysis they would offer, the arguments and disagreements they would have among themselves, the range of recommendations they would make–all these would be much too grounded in reality to allow for their wide dissemination among the American public. Our current political culture is after all propped up on the venal party tribalism of the pseudo-elite and the ignorance and stupefication of the masses. If that were to fail we might risk approaching something like a functional republic.

  10. Jack says:

    Mr. Bahzad,
    Pleasure to see you back. Always enjoy your analysis.
    IMO, our foreign policy is not necessarily adrift, as it is lacking any coherence or discernable strategy, which may be what you are implying. This again IMO has been the state of affairs since Jimmy Carter was president. Or maybe even Johnson.
    I have never heard a clear articulation of what these “experts” believe is the national interest and a strategy to accomplish it.

  11. Agree, which is why I think it’s adrift. Andrew Basevich’s book “America’s War for the Greater Middle-East” points out many of the strategic shortcomings that have been observed since Carter.

  12. Barbara Ann says:

    Our current political culture is after all propped up on the venal party tribalism of the pseudo-elite and the ignorance and stupefication of the masses.

    Yup – so much for an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry”.
    And yes you may dare say it, in fact it is vitally important that you do; the foreign state is Israel and it has acquired vast unwarranted influence on US foreign policy in the ME.
    Patrick Bahzad describes US FP in the region as “adrift”. IMO we should expect it to remain so, until its formulation more accurately represents the interests of Americans – and less so those of a small nation thousands of miles away.

  13. Croesus says:

    A win by Assad would be, by definition/declaration, not a fair election.
    (But agreed, Assad would probably win.)

    A threshold question or two, tho, to Patrick Bahzad: on what legitimate grounds is US in Syria anyway?
    Isn’t it a violation of UN Charter to involve oneself in another sovereign, UN Charter-nation’s domestic affairs?
    Did US Congress debate and declare war on Syria for some legitimate cause?
    Does this sound childishly naive?

  14. Bandolero says:

    I don’t see another looming disaster coming for the US in Syria.
    The most likely thing I foresee that Turkey’s relationship with NATO will be complicated further, if Turkey doesn’t leave NATO altogether, and the US will have to withdraw from Syria due to a lack of a reliable LOC.
    The grand US objectives in Syria as stated by Tillerson were fully in line with what the Neocons wanted: roll back Iran. However, what Trump promised his voters in his election campaign was to smash ISIS and then pack up and go.
    I foresee that Trump’s Syria strategy “accidentally” will accomplish what Trump promised his voters. That maybe a disaster in the eyes of the Neocons, but I would see it neither as a disaster for the US, for Trump and his voters or for the region and – in more general terms – the world as such.

  15. Lemur says:

    I don’t really think a society like that of the contemporary West (with the exception of Russia and maybe Eastern Europe) has the will to fight a real conflict or cold war where our superior technology is not a decisive factor. Look at the sheer amount of kinetic force the various powers had to bring against the aspiring Sunni Caliphate. Multi-million dollar warplanes dropped hundred thousand dollar precision guided munitions on Technicals worth no more than $30,000 max. Were our technical resources evenly matched but social and political attitudes remained the same respectively, ISIS would have established a strong and enduring order. Absent the technological factor, spiritual acuity and collective self-belief will trump an ethos dedicated to servicing the preferences of individual ‘choice’ (selection between trivial options) construed as (lol) ‘freedom’.
    Camilla Paglia talks about it here (time stamp linked).

  16. turcopolier says:

    The SAG has told the Turks that they will defend Syrian air space over Afrin and Kurdish reinforcements for Afrin are passing through Aleppo city en route to Afrin. This indicates to me that the Syrian Kurds and the SAG are going to kiss and make up. Bad news for the Borg and sultan Tayyip. Paraphasing – “Springtime for Assad and Syria, winter for Tayyip and Rex.” pl

  17. Barbara Ann says:

    Great to see you back Patrick
    I used to try and divine the clever underlying plan that must surely lie beneath US ‘strategy’ in Syria. But the Colonel and others, including now yourself, are increasingly persuading me that it really is as dumb as it looks.
    This is a liberating and at the same time, profoundly worrying realization. Was the Border Security Force announcement really a genuine mistake? If one monumentally crass and thoughtless communication can be a casus belli for Turkey, what can we expect next. Analysis accounting for irrational actors is one thing, but allowing for this level of sheer stupidity takes some getting used to.

  18. Kooshy says:

    Mr. Bahzad glad to have you back at SDT. You are absolutely on the mark saying preventing reconstruction and economic improvement in Iraq and Syria will provide the fertile breading ground for new terrorist groups like ISIL and AQ. But, don’t you agree, according to SOS Tillerson, that the reemergence of terrorists in these countries would be the raison d’être for keeping the US mission in Syria and Iraq, and keeping US troops in the region indefinitely. Like a vicious cycle?
    Just like the Iran agreement (JCPOA) by keeping it hanging, inconclusive, and unstable, as you suggest, will prevent any domestic or foreign economic reconstruction investment (in Iran’ case to make a economic unsatisfied base for a possible regime change uprisings) and provide a fertile ground for terrorism, which provides a good excuse for US’ domestic audience to keep US troops in the region indefinitely, and to keep the region even more unstable for the sake and safeguard of the Israel project.

  19. VietnamVet says:

    Thanks. Great Post.
    With Israel and Saudi Arabia as allies, who needs enemies? The end of the Caliphate in a realistic world would signal that it is time to get out of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. Instead the elites will double down. Russia and Iran have shown that nation states can still defend their borders and their national interests. Let Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia and China deal with the Daesh. It is the West that should be securing its borders and governing for the benefit of its citizens. Instead, the oligarchs will double down on more war, continue using paid proxy forces, end democracy, enforce austerity, enslave workers and get richer. Greece is a tragedy today that highlights the West’s future.

  20. steve says:

    Welcome back. Can we stay in Iraq long enough to make a difference? Should we? I am not convinced that we can find and keep in place people who understand this area of the world well enough to commit troops in the area for very long.

  21. “But the most basic question as to what the United States wants to do with Syria, and what it wants for the Middle-East in general, remained unanswered.”
    I’d say it’s been very clear for the last eighteen years at least: war with Iran.
    First there was Iraq – but Israel wanted Iran to be the target and only came on board with the Iraq war when the neocons assured them Iran would be next after the Iraq “cakewalk”. Unfortunately Iraq wasn’t the cakewalk they were looking for. And then the 2007 Iran NIE shot down Bush and Cheney’s intentions and the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah was a dismal failure.
    Then came the “Arab Spring” and then Libya. Someone got the bright idea to reproduce Libya in Syria, a necessary precondition for a war with Iran and also for dealing with Hizballah in Lebanon.
    Except after Russia and China vetoed THREE UNSC Resolutions justifying a US/NATO war on Syria, and after Russia forced Obama to back down THREE TIMES over imposing a “no-fly zone” – read: war on Syria – that plan came a cropper. And Hizballah is stronger than ever and Assad is still standing.
    Now things are up in the air. The US wants to remain in Syria apparently solely to try to “meddle” and find another way to start a war with Syria. After all, eventually Assad has to try to get rid of those troops and if one SAA soldier shoots at one US soldier, the US will have its war with Syria. If Assad doesn’t, well, the US will think of something…
    Turkey is another wild card. No one knows whether Erdogan will attack the Kurds, whether the Kurds and Assad will fight back, justifying a US/Turkey/NATO war on Syria which was the original plan all along.
    Israel continues to bomb Syria every other week just to keep its hand in trying to get Assad to strike back in some serious way so Israel can attack Syria, as it’s being doing since the Syrian crisis started. Meanwhile Israel is trying to get the US on board to attack Lebanon. Israel also justifies its attacks on Syria as being “anti-Iranian” to keep the US interested in attacking Syria.
    As Rambo said, “Nothing is over! You just don’t turn it off!”
    The US and Israel definitely want that war with Iran and they’re going to get it if they have to wait another twenty years.
    At least, that’s assuming we don’t spend the next twenty years fighting in North Korea.

  22. different clue says:

    If the Bitter Baathists and the Former Iraqi Army people are still in place and in touch with eachother in and beyond Anbar Province, won’t they bide their time till they can organize an ISIS 2.0? And an ISIS 3.0 after that? And then an ISIS 4.0 and so on?
    Isn’t the only way to deprive the Bitter Baathists and etc. of an ongoing opportunity to keep on insurging and insurgine . . . a serious and sincere reconciliation between the Sunni Arabs and the Shia Arab government of Iraq leading to a reasonable measure of power and respect for the Sunni Arab elites and people of Iraq?
    And if that is the only way to relieve the pressure leading to more ISISes in Iraq, isn’t Iran the only government capable of forcing an unwilling Shia government in Baghdad to reconcile with the Sunni Arabs in order to make them uninterested in supporting more such Bitter Baathist insurgencies?

  23. confusedponderer says:

    I yesterday read that Turkey sent Hawk air defence missiles to Syria “to cover the airspace” and to “defend turkish troops from airstrikes” and not to deny the said air space to Russian and Syrian use and/or air strikes.

  24. johnf says:

    Wow, that post deserves a thread of its own.
    A game changer!

  25. Peter Reichard says:

    The Tillerson plan ought to be the final piece of evidence for even those in denial that the Trump administration has now been fully assimilated into the Borg. The defeat of ISIS represented an opportunity to declare victory and gracefully disengage from Syria, instead “having learned nothing and forgotten nothing” as Talleyrand remarked about the Bourbons, fully believing our own delusional propaganda and unable to see the failure of our regime change gambit for what it truly is we are intent upon marching ever deeper into the Syrian quicksand. The incompetent imperialism of the past three presidents continues now with a forth.

  26. Peter Reichard says:

    Make my last word fourth not forth.

  27. Or phase 1 of a new proxy war with Iran ?

  28. “I don’t really think a society like that of the contemporary West (with the exception of Russia and maybe Eastern Europe) has the will to fight a real conflict or cold war where our superior technology is not a decisive factor” – I think you’re wrong.

  29. If reason had prevailed, we would not have had any of the FP fiascos we have had.

  30. I don’t think you’ll ever going to see SAA troops shooting at US troops. That’s not how proxy wars work.

  31. Vicious cycle implies the US has the stamina and the (financial) resources to stay the course. Not even talking about human costs. And what for ? What would justify such an effort ? Are US taxpayers and citizens willing to make such a commitment ?

  32. Probably better get used to it. We’ve had 15 years of this already. Brace yourself for more.

  33. LeaNder says:

    I’d say it’s been very clear for the last eighteen years at least: war with Iran.
    If I were the king, as dealmaker I would bring Iran and China to heels, Trump:
    Will Rex Tillerson be really be gone shortly? As some assumed? Considering he has the right adviser in Vulcano Condi now?
    “punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia”
    Do French Fries ring a bell? The question is what wise advise would Rice have to offer other then “Fuck Europe”, to put it more starkly?

  34. I’d say that sums it up nicely.

  35. LeaNder says:

    Or phase 1 of a new proxy war with Iran ?
    Ok, my mind went there partially reading RSH only admittedly.
    But at that point I wanted to see it clearer. No doubt interesting parties in Washington looking for money, weapons and support. It’s quite easy to see were luck might loom.
    Pleased to to see you. Or read you, if you prefer. 😉

  36. Thank you for that all-embracing summary. Maybe detente soon, if Trump manages to get the Russiagate nonsense off his back? Or is that merely another Deplorable fantasy?
    This deplorable had hoped we wouldn’t be in the position you describe, coming into 2018 – “The current war in the Middle-East isn’t just a war like any other. It has multiple players involved, some of them non-State actors, whose interests might vary according to changing circumstances and alliances. It has sponsors that use this theatre of operations as leverage for other areas, willing to trade-off some advantage here against a compromise elsewhere.”
    Same old Grand Chessboard. That Grand Chessboard comes expensive, and many had hoped our neocons might have noticed by now that there are real people living in the squares. Or dying or running, as the case might be.

  37. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Patrick Bahzad
    The Jihadists seem to have spread into Sub-Saharan Africa.
    Can you share any opinions in regards to their potential spread into Central Asia as well as into the Sub-Continent of India?

  38. Good to see you back, Patrick. I agree with your analysis. “Our foreign policy is adrift in the region.” We had a brief shining moment when we pounded the IS jihadis at the siege of Kobani and followed that up with the employment of up to 200 Special Forces to work with the YPG/YPJ. We didn’t try to remake them into our image of a military force. We provided ammo, small arms and coordinated air strikes and let the Kurds be the Kurds as a light infantry force. I thought it was a good balance. I had misgivings when we pushed the whole SDF thing. That morphed into the mess we have now in eastern Syria. We should have left it to those 200 Special Forces. If I was among them, I would have risked sedition and advised the YPG/YPG to to seek accommodation with Damascus. What we’re going to them now is what we have done to them in the past. We’ll will screw them over, get tired of them and get them killed.

  39. John_Frank says:

    Earlier today, a ‘senior State Department official’ held a briefing on Syria.
    State has posted the transcript. For those interested:
    Briefing on Syria https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/01/277545.htm

  40. Agreed. But what proxy does Assad have that is willing to shoot at US soldiers? Most of his allies don’t want to give the US an excuse to attack them either. Certainly Hizballah or Iranian forces in Syria don’t want that. Might be some Palestinian forces that wouldn’t mind…

  41. Kooshy says:

    TTG to many this outcome was clear from day one. IMO, US has no choice but to use the Kurds as the desperate fools they are. Due to US’ domestic need “must do” to suport her stupid Israel project at any cost, balancing the region’ powers against her own clients don’t leave US any choice but to sacrifice her best interests in the region. As in the past Kurds will be screwed again, nevertheless out of thier wishfull stupidity they will be ready and available to be thrown under the bus again and on demand.

  42. Kooshy says:

    In ME everything and everybody’s loyalty comes with a price, you remember who was shooting at US trooped in Iraq? They were the same Sunni Arab tribes that US has bought earlier not to shoot at them. Do you think the Syrian Arab desert tribe can’t be bought to shoot at US troops ?

  43. outthere says:

    remarkable testimony:
    > Jeffrey was especially critical of the Obama administration, which he blamed for failures in the second Gulf War against Iraq. Jeffrey, who was the Obama administration’s ambassador to Iraq during the period when U.S. forces withdrew from the country in 2011, said that the administration should have accepted a secret plan to keep U.S. forces in the country. Jeffrey explained that administration officials had arranged a secret plan with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “to cheat, with Maliki’s acknowledgement,” on the final agreement to withdraw U.S. forces from the country. “We had Black SOF, White SOF,” he said, seemingly referring to different kinds of Special Operations Forces. “We had drones, we had all kinds of things,” he added.
    > Jeffrey was reluctant to provide more details, but he insisted that the secret plan could have worked if his superiors in the Obama administration had tried it. He did not express any concern about the fact that an estimated 100,000 people had already died in the war.
    > “It was a very big package, including a $14 billion FMS program,” Jeffrey said, referring to a program of military sales. “We had bases all over the country that were disguised bases that the U.S. military was running.”

  44. kooshy says:

    A very sobering and informative testimony on US’ ME FP by four former US ambassadors in ME, most of these points, has been and is discussed here on SST.
    Rare Glimpse Into Inner Workings Of American Empire In Middle East

  45. different clue says:

    Patrick Bahzad,
    ( reply to comment 30),
    It seems that reason won’t prevail on its own. It can only be made to prevail if the reasonable can defeat the anti-reasonable in political combat.
    It reminds me of what a pharmacist I used to work for said when excuses were made for why something almost worked, and would have worked except for this or that or the other. His saying was: ” Well, the dog would have caught the rabbit if he hadn’t stopped to take a sh*t.” And that is where we are.
    Since I haven’t been firmly corrected for suggesting that Iran is the only government which can force the Shia supremacist regime in Baghdad to make peace with the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, I will dare to hope that my feeling in that regard is somewhat accepted, provisionally.
    If I am considered to be somewhat right about that for the moment, I offer the further supposition that since Persia and Mesopotamia have been in power-conflict at times in the past . . . that the same underlying psychopower political pattern still holds. If so, the Iran gov will want to keep Iraq weak and subordinate, and a good way to keep Iraq weak and subordinate is to keep encouraging endless cycles of Sunni Arab insurgency and revolt against the Baghdad regime in order to keep the Baghdad regime helpless and dependent on Iran. To achieve that, all Iran has to do is passively refuse to make the Baghdad Shia government deal fairly with the Sunni Arabs. The Baghdad Shia government will naturally keep persecuting and oppressing the Sunni Arabs, who will naturally support Bitter Baathist engineered Sunni Jihadi insurgencies on into the future.

  46. Serge says:

    I am happy to see you writing again Mr. Bahzad,I have particularly enjoyed your submissions over the past 4 years since discovering SST, I especially enjoyed your mosul articles last year. One point of contention:You simultaneously say
    >The fate of IS in Eastern Syria is sealed
    while noting that the survival of IS in Iraq is all but inevitable. How can you separate the survival of IS in iraq from its historical use of the syrian communities along the euphrates as a base of support since the early 2000s? And while the scale of pure destruction in mosul cannot be compared to what has occurred from tabqa to raqqa to deir ez,looking at population alone(barely 50% of the affected mosul pop currently festering in the refugee camps equals the populations of those aforementioned syrian IS holdings), it can be predicted from my view that an assymetrical IS resistance will plague all of the former IS holdings,whether under SAA or SDF control, neither of which have particularly more power than the Baghdad Iraqis do over anbar and nineva today. I contend that IS has enacted a medium-long term goal of increasing popular support for IS through planned resistance in heavily dense population centers. They enacted this plan in the narrow streets of baghdad,samarra,fallujah in the 2000s; and they repeated it on a grand scale on the streets of manbij,al bab, Raqqa, Mosul in the 2010s. I contend that this is a long term trend to breed a generation of pro-IS iraqis/syrians,to dwarf the generation of pro-IS citizens of fallujah,baghdad,samarra which made up the 2014 wave witness to the depredations of the 2000s

  47. Barbara Ann says:

    Elijah Magnier, now in 5 languages and counting, thinks it is only a matter of time before asymmetric warfare comes to the US in Eastern Syria. The Iranians in particular will be highly motivated to attack the US everywhere, should bilateral relations degenerate even further. I seem to remember them being highly effective in this goal using IEDs in Iraq.

  48. LeaNder says:

    TTG to many this outcome was clear from day one. IMO, US has no choice but to use the Kurds as the desperate fools they are.
    Kooshy, I hesitated at TTG’s comment if I should respond. Then decided not to.
    But, while I am, more arbitrarily somewhat irritated by the Apo/Öcalan heroization, I was in full support for helping the Kurds against the Sunni-Islamist onslaught.

  49. kooshy says:

    Sorry but IMO your theory on Iran intention for keeping Iraq majority shia legal recognized government weak is a total BS which dont make sense for a minority sect in the region. As a matter of fact Iran’ policy for Iraq driven from Najaf and Qom Hozeh is full support of Iraqi government at any cost that is internally and externally. That is very obvious on how Iran supported Iraq against both ISIS and Kurds.

  50. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The Western Fortress plays the Game of Nations, Near Easterners play the Game of Religions and Tribes. The English understood when and were to play each game, Americans are clueless.

  51. different clue says:

    (reply to comment 50),
    I think your comment actually helps to support my theory. Of course the IranGov “supports” the Baghdad Shia supremacist government “fully” at any cost. They also want to keep it too weakly in command of Iraq to be able to govern without Iran’s full “support”. That is why the Iran gov will never force ( or even suggest) that the Baghdad Shia government deal fairly with the Sunni Arab Anbaris and others.
    If the Iran gov in fact FORCES the Baghdad Shia regime to deal fairly with the several million Sunni Arabs who have already shown that they can support an insurgency if they feel they have to, then they will be treated fairly enough to where they no longer feel they have to support an insurgency. And the “sea” which the Bitter Baathist core and its various ISIS containment domes swim in will become a dry well, and the Bitter Baathists will swim no more. And if it happens that way, I will freely come onto the appropriate thread at that time and admit just how right you were about just how bullsh*tty my theory is.
    But if if happens the way I theorize . . . that the Iran gov will leave its Baghdad Shia clients free to oppress and persecute the Sunni Arab Iraqis to their hearts’ delight, thereby inspiring insurgency after insurgency after insurgency requiring Iran to keep providing its full “support” at any cost, then my theory will have been proven to be bullshinola, not bullsh*t.
    In the meantime, your sense of genuinely aggrieved offendedness at my theory calls to mind the American saying . . . ” if the foo sh*ts . . .”

  52. Kooshy says:

    IMO, there are two facts that you and most westerners don’t understand about Iraq. One is that there is no such thing as Iraqi, simply people of Iraq have no sense or loyalty to Iraq, they do have loyalty to thier sect and thier branch of religion regardless wht Iranian or Iraqi governments wish or do. Secondly loyalty and sense of nationality and belonging in entire Middle East except for Turkey and Iran (Babak’ saljugh bondries) are auctioned and sold temporarily to the highest payer. If west would have understood and understands Iraq and it’s history and demographiy they knew Iran needed to do nothing to wind Iraq, still doesn’t by default majority in Iraq have no choice but to side with Iran, and naturally Sunnis of Iraq and rest of the world would not like that weather Iran want it that way or not. That is the reason Iran need not to keep government of Iran weak but rather strong. Sorry but IMO, your long explanation, no matter he wnyountwist it is a BS and make no sense.

  53. Kooshy says:

    Sorry to see you irritated for this realities. My father (a Historian) once told me historians perhaps can change and rewrite history as the wish, but fortunately they never can change geography and it’s people, he meant geography and people will eventually set the twisted facts right. Westerners specially Americans have no intrest or even respect for a geography and it’s people and it’s history. That is what happened in Iraq or Kurdish regions and the rest of ME, specially thier Israel project. IMO, for next few dancers the wars in ME will continue until once agin west moves to the west of Bosporus.

  54. Kooshy says:

    BTW here is the mean flaw with your theory
    “If the Iran gov in fact FORCES the Baghdad Shia regime to deal fairly with the several million Sunni Arabs who have already shown that they can support an insurgency if they feel they have to, then they will be treated fairly enough to where they no longer feel they have to support an insurgency.”
    So you think, if Iran some how had the power to force Iraqi Shia government ( which only survives on behest of Najaf’ and Qum) to allow insurgency tried, and used and capable to use agin Sunni Iraqis more fairly. These Sunni Iraqis, including their Saudi and US inspirers and bank rollers, going to be satisfied and leave the now strong Iraqi government alone?. May I ask, which world you live in, or how old you are?
    I am not aggrieved or offended, from your openion, I just saw your analysis has no factual base or sense of reality.

  55. J says:

    It’s good to hear from you. Hope everything is well with you. Happy New Year to you and all the best.

  56. Babak,
    I suspect IS has been working on some time on their “post-Califate” period, with emphasis on “deterritorialisation, globalisation and virtualization”, i.e. reversing back to insurgency in some areas, ensure their – even marginal – presence on a global scale and expand in the cyberworld with more language versions of their propaganda, for example.
    In that regard, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia look like two “hubs” they are intent on developing. I’m not so sure about India, but Indonesia and Malaysia definitely. Also because there are a significant number of Jihadis from these countries fighting in the ME.

  57. TTG, I’m afraid that exactly what is going to happen, whether that is in 6 months or 6 years I don’t know, but the end result is likely to be the same. Look at what happened in Iraq.
    Overall, US policies in the region lack the subtlety that would be required for informal agreements with non-State groups to group properly in the long run. Everything is too obvious.

  58. In Iraq, many casualties were EFP related. In Lebanon, it was car bombs. In Mosul, it was (S)VBIEDS.
    Besides, they wouldn’t carry a flag saying “we dunnit”, would they ?

  59. I’m not saying IS will not try and maybe manage to keep some presence in Syria’s East, they most probably will. I’m saying Iraq has always been central to their concerns and will continue to be the focus of their attention in the ME.
    There are several limiting factors to their ability to keep on going in Eastern Syria, one of them being the hostility of a large part of local tribes to IS. The other being the lack of a sizeable population that would be favourable to any larger scale comeback.
    With AQ groups, it’s a different story. But IS as such, has more chances at keeping an operational base in Iraq than in Syria.

  60. J, thx a lot ! Same to you 😉

  61. Fred says:

    “…Near Easterners play the Game of Religions and Tribes.”
    The credentialed elites who populate the West’s foreign policy apparatus and orbiting intelegensia no longer understand religion as a belief system to organize ones life and the society on lives in – if they are not openly hostile to believers, especially Christian ones in their own lands.

  62. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you.

  63. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you.

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