By disengaging in Syria, Trump is following in Obama’s tracks

It turns out that, in Syria, Trump, who is obsessed with undermining his predecessor’s foreign policy philosophy, can only walk the same path established by Obama.
Friday 18/10/2019
US President Donald Trump arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, October 18. (AP)
US President Donald Trump arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, October 18. (AP)

US President Donald Trump has offered his buddy Russian President Vladimir Putin the gift of the year in Syria. In collusion with Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Washington drove the Kurds into the open arms of Moscow and Damascus.

The notorious telephone conversation between the Turkish and US presidents October 6 opened the door to a malicious demonic path that would turn things upside down in Syria.

The Kurds in north-eastern Syria acted as if they were implementing a pre-drawn road map and rushed to implement it hours following the start of the Turkish attack.

Turkish propaganda platforms hinted that the Kurds were going to open their territories to Syrian regime forces and some of them promised to open the territories to Iranian forces and their militias.

The reservations and confusion shown by the Kurds’ official positions when asked about the hoopla surrounding their rush to choose Damascus seemed to express their hope that a political earthquake is likely to happen in the United States that would turn things upside down again.

Tension inside the United States might suggest that. The negative reactions of the Pentagon, Congress and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham pushed Trump to shift positions and fire warning shots across Turkey’s bow, threatening to destroy its economy.

However, it was US Defence Secretary Mark Asper, who had previously warned Turkey against carrying out its military campaign, who announced the road map that revealed the Kurds’ agreement with Russia and the Syrian regime.

In a blink of an eye, Washington ended the Kurdish situation in Syria. The United States had got what it wanted out of the Kurds when it threw them in the thick of the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) and terrorism.

The Kurds had no choice: either to jump on Washington’s war wagon against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organisation or suffer the advance of the latter and his hordes on their territory, their cities and villages and witness a repeat on the Kurds of what ISIS fighters had done against the Yazidis and what they tried to do against the Kurds in Iraq.

Syrian Kurds have known that their power and dream would not stand against the game of major interests. They realised that the dreamy doses they received in recent years because of prevailing circumstances in the region would end when time circumstances changed.

Those were the lessons of their painful history and they must be used to its cruelty. Perhaps they were not surprised by the dramatic rapid turnaround decided during a brief telephone call between Ankara and Washington that would wipe out their illusions.

The American exercise, led by Trump-the-president and Trump-the-candidate, is logical and predictable in the general context of US policy on Syria. The administration of former President Barack Obama exceedingly underestimated Syrian casualties, revealing the marginalisation of US interests in Syria and the unimportance of this country to Washington’s major interests.

Plainly, Trump did what Obama had done. It turns out that, in Syria, Trump, who hates his predecessor, detests his accomplishments and is obsessed with undermining his foreign policy philosophy, can only walk the same path established by Obama but perhaps skilfully, maliciously and even with Machiavellian delight.

Obama handed over the whole Syrian file to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama was once outraged by the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its opponents in Eastern Ghouta and threatened to use the tremendous firepower of the American giant. Aircraft carriers and naval ships ploughed their way towards the Mediterranean and the parliaments of US allies were mobilised. It was the brink of a major war.

Suddenly, here came Putin, offering to take care of the “dirty work” on behalf of the world’s major democracies. “Do not dirty your hands and let me do it my way,” he told them. Indeed, Putin delivered Syria’s chemical weapons to the world. Damascus handed over its arsenal and Washington and the western alliance handed Syria over to Putin.

Since Obama gave the green light to the Russian leader to begin his military intervention in Syria in September 2015, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry — Russia’s and the United States’ highest-ranking diplomats at the time — established the sacred texts in politics, security and the military that keep the Western world abreast with the Russian baptism of fire in Syria.

Washington and its allied capitals sought to remove all obstacles ahead of the Russian war machine, especially by depriving the Syrian opposition, which Washington and its Friends of Syria long claimed to nurture and support, from receiving weapons that might mitigate Russia’s fire supremacy in Syria.

Putin was obsessed with not repeating in Syria what had happened to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan when Soviet planes were shot down one by one by US Stinger missiles fired from the shoulders of the mujahideen, eventually preparing the path for the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Syria, Washington and its allies stripped off the bodies of the opposition forces for Putin’s army to shoot.

Now, Trump is doing what Obama had done: He is presenting the Kurds and their areas in eastern Syria on a silver platter to the Russian president.

The man, who has never hidden his admiration for his Russian buddy, has given him the head of the Kurdish cause in Syria, just like Obama gave Russia’s strong man the head of the Syrian opposition. So nothing is new here, even if the Kurds, as well as the Syrian opposition that is being used against them, were hoping the nightmare would not be repeated.

The Kurd’s agreement with Damascus and Moscow strengthens Russia’s position and gives it lead of the Syrian file without any rival. The deal is a victory for Russia, even if Turkey’s noise platforms fill the air with talk about a Turkish victory and even if the Syrian opposition, which is towing in Turkey’s wake, is madly jumping with joy as if it had achieved its goal after eight years of fighting.

The agreement will reset the roles of the other Astana partners, Turkey and Iran, according to Russian maps alone. Iran opposes the Turkish military operation blessed by Trump but, like it or not, the Kurds’ agreement with Moscow and Damascus is under US patronage, laying the foundation for the emergence of the international sponsorship that Putin was hoping for in a settlement in Syria, the birth of which is being managed by Moscow, with the caesarean birth of the Constitutional Committee being one aspect.

The agreement limits the Turkish military campaign and draws red lines that Moscow and Washington share and which builds walls surrounding Erdogan’s ambitions in northern Syria.

Of course, the propaganda machine of the Turkish regime had to react to threats made by Trump and Washington and give voice to a Turkish vigour that rejects any threat but, in the end, Erdogan, his party and his government had had a taste of Russian anger — after the downing of the Russian fighter jet on November 24, 2015 — and cannot forget the bitter taste of being in the position of having to apologise profusely to the spoiled Russian leader.

Russia has just had a free victory in Syria. Everyone else, however, had to invest something. The Turks invested military, political and financial efforts. Trump invested promises to his electoral base to withdraw US troops from Syria. The Western world has invested in condemnation positions against Turkey, its leader and its military operations. Only Moscow reaped the whole harvest.