14:51 GMT +324 March 2019
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    Pivot to Asia

    The United States in Syria

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    John Harrison

    The United States may or may not have a good reason for being in Syria. In this program we take a look at some of the underlying reasons behind US involvement in that country, and what will happen in the future.

    Brecht Jonkers, a journalist for Al-Masdar News joins the program.

    Brecht starts the program by describing, in brief, the importance of Syria to the United States. "It is important to understand that Syria has played a pivotal role in Middle Eastern politics, especially in western interventions. About 100 years ago, during the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, the main prize for the Arab revolt against the Turks and the Ottomans, was Jerusalem and Damascus. When the city of Damascus was taken by the Arabs, they were hoping they could found the Arab Kingdom, which would constitute most of the Arab world in the Middle East as we know it now. This worked well for the French and the British as well, because they saw this as the opening of a path to enable them to carve out their own imperial territories in the oil rich Middle East. I think that what happened after WWII and during the Cold war is that the British and the French slowly disappeared to the background and they were taken over by the United States, as the new imperial power. The United States has always been involved in Syria. They supported various reactionary groups, and they were definitely not content when in the 1960s, the progressive Syrian Ba'ath Party which is a Pan-Arab, liberation-orientated came to power. Ever since then, the Americans have always tried to destabilize Syria. Most of the time since 2011 when the Syrian Civil war started, the US was limited to external pressures, through support of Israel of course, support of Turkey and even support of Syria's regional adversary — Iraq, back in the time when Saddam Hussein was still in power…"

    Be this as it may, a $1billion covert programme run by the CIA to train and equip Syrian rebels was cancelled in mid-2017 by the Trump administration. This could lead one to think that America is changing its policy and walking away from a policy of direct intervention in Syria. To this suggestion, Brecht says: "I think the main reason why Donald Trump wanted to stop the program was that the Americans had no real control over where the weapons would end up, so their main concern was that the support they had given to Syrian rebels would be used against American troops and targets later on, so this is not really a stop to American meddling in Syria, it is a transformation from only relying on the rebel forces, such as the so called Free Syrian Army (FSA), al-Qaeda and ISIS linked groups. The Syrian rebel groups is that they are incredibly unstable, there are rebel groups which have only lasted for days or even hours before breaking up, and some members of them join al-Qaeda groupings, others join ISIS. So the Americans have decided, I believe, to rely on two things — direct military intervention, through at least 2000 soldiers which they have on the ground now, and a group which would lend them credibility, and this is of course the Kurdish people. Because in the West there is a pretty massive admiration for Kurdish left wing forces, for example the YPG….The Americans know this and I believe are trying to subvert the Kurdish movement to serve their aims. The Kurds seem to be fighting for democracy and even for socialism."

    American involvement in Syria has been going on for on 7 years now, and according to Brecht, there is growing discontent amongst Americans against continuing this, although that does not mean that the American political elite will change their strategy. Brecht says: "I can see opposition for continuing involvement in Syria growing on both sides of the American political establishment but in some cases this is just political opportunism; by people who are finding anything that they can to oppose Trump, even though Trump is de facto just continuing the Democratic policies of Obama in the Middle East."

    The ‘hijacking of the Kurds' by the Americans could be seen to be the Achilles heel of the movement to support Syrian integrity, but it may not succeed, Brecht says: "I think the original thing about Syria is that for the last 30 years it has been led by a coalition of parties that is very pan-Arab. They have managed to avoid falling into the trap of Arab supremacism, unlike, for example, what happened in Iraq under Saddam Hussein….There are criticisms to be made of Assad and his policy towards the Kurds, and obviously they were very careful with any obvious Kurdish nationalist sentiment. But in Syria the Kurds were never oppressed in the way that Saddam Hussein oppressed the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Plus, it is important to note that contrary to what people may believe, the Kurdish people are not the majority of what they now call Rojava; there is a sizeable group of Afrin Christians, and Turks. Syria is a very multicultural country everywhere, so dividing the country along ethnic lines would be complete madness, and there is a sizeable group of Kurds who recognize that establish a separate Kurdish state in Syria is crazy."

    As regards the future, whether America will return to Syria with a vengeance, Brecht says: "It is hard to say particularly given the irrational nature of the Trump administration. If America was to lose outright in Syria it might be comparable to the Iranian revolution in 1979; the Americans would not actually lose an ally, but they would lose a project which they were certain would work. People like John McCain in 2010 and 2012 said that OK, we toppled Gadhafi, now we go on to the next one and the next one and the next one. We have to remember that Syria is not even the final goal of American policy in the Middle East; the final goal is targeting Iran, and from there targeting China and Russia. Basically the entirety of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization block….I know that there are many politicians like Boris Johnson who want to see a return [of the West in Syria], but at the same time there are many other opinions, such as in France which does not seem to want a military invasion…"

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    Middle East, policy, military conflict, Syria, United States
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