04:42 GMT02 April 2020
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    The maneuver to torpedo the Geneva peace talks earlier this month was likely part of an effort by Riyadh to pressure the Obama administration into invading Syria, veteran foreign affairs journalist Joe Lauria says. The question that remains is whether the US president is willing to send American soldiers to die for the sake of Saudi interests.

    Lauria begins his analysis, published by independent news service Consortium News, by linking Riyadh's announcement on its willingness to send tens of thousands of troops to Syria with the Syrian Army's successful offensive to encircle the rebel-held portion of Aleppo, Syria's second city.

    The battle for Aleppo, the journalist explained, which "could determine the outcome of the five-year-old war," sparked the Saudi-led plan to hold war maneuvers involving up to 150,000 men "to prepare for an invasion of Syria."

    "Saudi Arabia's desire to intervene (under the cover of fighting Islamic State [Daesh] terrorists but really aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) has been welcomed by Washington, but dismissed by [an] Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander and some Western analysts as a ruse."

    Iranian Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari, Lauria recalled, told reporters that he doesn't think Riyadh "will dare" to send troops to Syria. "They have a classic army, and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces. This will be a coup de grace for them," Jafari warned.

    Other analysts, from RT and Sputnik commentator Finnian Cunningham to Iranian political analyst Mosayeb Na'imi, suggested that Riyadh's move is nothing more than a political bluff, part of a campaign of propaganda and misinformation by the Kingdom.

    Lauria, for his part, doesn't believe that it is all just a bluff or a ruse, "and here's why: it appears instead to be a challenge by the Saudis to get President Barack Obama to commit US ground troops to lead the invasion. The Saudis made it clear they would only intervene as part of a US-led operation."

    "After meeting Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: 'The coalition will operate the way it has operated in the past, as an international coalition, even when there is a ground force contingent in Syria. There would be no international coalition against ISIS [Daesh] in Syria if the US did not lead this effort."

    "Riyadh," Lauria writes, "knows better than anyone that it doesn't have the military capability to do anything beyond pounding the poorest Arab country into dust, that would be its neighbor Yemen. And it can't win that war either. But when Saudi Arabia's ambitions outsize their capabilities, who do they call? The 'indispensable nation', the United States."

    For Better or for Worse, It Comes Down to Obama

    So far, the journalist noted, President Barack Obama has "resisted direct US combat involvement in the Syrian civil war, despite longstanding Saudi, Israeli and neocon pressures. They clamored for intervention after the chemical weapons fiasco in Ghouta in the summer of 2013," an incident which, incidentally, is likely to have been "a 'false flag' provocation by the rebels to draw the US military into a war on [the rebels'] side."

    With Obama coming close "to acceding to that pressure," the British parliament's vote against intervention, Moscow's proposal to help eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, and a possible British intelligence tip informing him that the rebels, and not Assad, were responsible for the attack, convinced the president to back down. 

    "Even earlier," Lauria writes, "Obama resisted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's pressure to set up a 'no-fly zone' inside Syria (which would have required the US military destroying Syria's air defenses and much of its air force, compromising the government's ability to battle Sunni jihadist groups, including those associated with Al-Qaeda)."

    In other places, "Obama also defied the Saudis, Israelis, and the neocons in pushing through the Iranian nuclear deal over their strident opposition in 2015. But Obama has not shown the same resolve against the neocons and liberal interventionists elsewhere, such as Libya in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014."

    As a result, the journalist noted, as far as Syria goes, the US has only committed to deploying its air power, along with a limited contingent of Special Forces, all ostensibly aimed at hitting Daesh targets.

    "However," Lauria warned, "the Saudi plan is being discussed at a NATO defense ministers' summit in Brussels this week." 

    Speaking on the eve of the meeting, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter vaguely hinted that the US would welcome Riyadh's proposal to send ground troops, but added that it was just one option, and that there were "lots of other ways" the Saudis "can contribute."

    Just as troubling, the journalist added, was the fact that last month, in Istanbul, "Vice President Joe Biden hinted at a possible Obama change in position when he said [that] if UN-led peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States was prepared for a 'military solution' in Syria." Incidentally, "in making that comment Biden may have given the rebels an incentive to sink the peace talks."

    Last week, Syrian opposition representatives ended up doing just that, scuttling the peace talks before they could even begin, "set[ting] preconditions for joining the talks, which were supposed to be started without preconditions."

    Now, "with the Syrian government…realistically viewing victory in the war for the first time, the panicked Saudis appear to be prodding Obama on whether he's ready to be remembered as the president who 'lost' Syria to the Russians and Iranians."

    Ultimately, Lauria warns that "like most leaders, Obama is susceptible to his 'legacy', that vain concern about how 'history will view him'. It is an attitude that can conflict with doing what's best for the country he leads and, in this case, would risk direct confrontation with Russia. Even embedding only hundreds of US Special Forces with Saudi and other Arab troops inside Syria could lead to disaster if they are struck by Russian warplanes."

    At the same time, the journalist notes, Obama is being subjected to domestic criticism flowing from US media talking heads about "America's Syrian Shame," and rhetoric about Washington 'abandoning' "the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught."

    In the final analysis, Lauria urges, "it is up to Obama to resist such pressure and not commit the folly of risking a direct confrontation with Russia by committing US ground forces to what would amount to an illegal invasion of Syria. It might be in Saudi Arabia's interests, but how is it in America's?"


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    Syrian peace talks, negotiations, peace talks, disruption, geopolitics, analysis, Daesh, Barack Obama, Syria, United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia
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