The long nightmare in Syria might finally be coming to an end, but not thanks to the United States and the administration of President Donald Trump. Trump’s boast that “this was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else” was as empty as all the other rhetoric coming out of the White House over the past two and a half years. Nevertheless, it now appears that the U.S. military just might finally be bidding farewell to an exercise that began under President Barack Obama as a prime bit of liberal interventionism, with American forces illegally entering into a conflict that the White House barely understood and subsequently meddling and prolonging the fighting.
The fundamental reason why the U.S. was so ineffective was that the Obama Administration’s principal objective from the beginning was to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, yet another attempt at “humanitarian” regime change similar to that which produced such a wonderful result in Libya. Al-Assad was never in serious danger as he had significant popular support, including from the country’s Christian minority, and American piecemeal attempts to negotiate some kind of exit strategy were doomed as they eschewed any dealing with the legitimate government that was in place. The Syrian civil war supported and even enabled by Washington caused more than 500,000 deaths, created some 9 million internal and external refugees, and destroyed the Syrian economy and infrastructure while also almost starting a war between the U.S. and Turkey.
The Russians understood the American mistake and consequently were able to arrange a settlement which now appears to be viable. They were able to deal with the Syrian government, Turkey, and the Kurds who had been set adrift by Washington. The arrangement arrived at has a number of significant features. First, it guarantees Syria’s territory integrity, which presumably means the U.S. will eventually have to evacuate its remaining positions in the oil region. Second, it satisfies Turkish legitimate security demands for a disarmed safe zone, which means that Kurdish militias will have to disarm and/or move twenty miles away from the border. The safe zone will be patrolled by the Syrian Army and the Russians with Turkish observers. Third, all separatist groups (terrorists) will be hunted down and eliminated and further attempts by them to reestablish in Syria will be opposed by all parties to the agreement. Fourth, steps will be taken to make possible the orderly return of refugees to Syria.
It is undeniably true that throughout the Syrian farrago, President Trump’s admittedly inherited policy could not possibly have been more incoherent, occasionally bizarre, predictably inconsistent, and actually dangerous to genuine American interests in the region. It is to everyone’s benefit that the game is finally over, but one can expect the neoconservatives in the United States to do their best to bring about yet another reversal by Trump.
It must be conceded that along the way, President Trump was not exactly acting with a free hand. He has been beleaguered by a Deep State conspiracy against him that began even before he was nominated, though he didn’t have to help his enemies by shooting himself in the head at every opportunity through tweets and demeaning language. The apparent commitment to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria was long overdue as Washington’s involvement in the fighting was wrong by every measure right from the beginning and remaining has only served to make more complicated the country’s recovery from eight years of conflict. It also was contrary to its publicly stated objective of destroying ISIS. A strong Syrian government was and is best placed to do just that and Washington, in a panic to recruit, train and arm mercenaries to fight Damascus often wound up arming terrorists.