We Americans like big things. The Big Mac, the big car, the big house. For their part, American leaders tend to love big foreign policy disasters. The term “blowback” was invented during the Cold War to define American foreign policy blunders (or, “flaps” as the intelligence services used to call mistakes back in the day) because American foreign policy created so many unintended consequences. One would have thought that, after 50 years of Cold War history, America’s policymakers would have learned something. But bureaucracies never learn; they just keep making the same mistakes on ever larger scales.
Take the Syrian civil war, for instance. The United States had little of real interest in that conflict. Yet, America’s policymakers charged headlong into that morass—destabilizing the entire region just a few short years after it destabilized the region with its initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, the problems for the United States in Syria continue to compound, the longer Americans remain in Syria. The one thing American leaders could do to ameliorate the situation—leave—most American policymakers refuse to countenance.
Put simply, Syria is a clusterf%$# of American proportions—and it’s only getting worse the longer we stay there.
Syria: A Special Kind of Stupid
The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1970s. They’ve been a perennial geopolitical problem for Washington since that time. When the Syrian people began revolting against the autocratic reign of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, everyone in Washington grew excited. Soon, calls from the Obama Administration to the effect that “Assad must go!” informed America’s official policy toward Syria.
From there, America’s intelligence services began acting in accordance with Obama’s proclamation. Groups of Syria’s rebels were armed and trained by CIA operatives. Meanwhile, the U.S. military began getting involved, selecting their own Syrian rebel factions to arm and train—without telling the intelligence agencies. Before long, American armed and trained Syrian rebels found themselves not only fighting Assad, but also each other (thereby negating whatever opportunity they had at overthrowing Assad).
It quickly became apparent that the competing factions of America’s military-intelligence complex were were not only fighting each other, but that many (if not all) of them were jihadist groups as committed to the destruction of the United States as they were to the overthrow of Assad in Syria. It was in Syria where ISIS built its caliphate. It is believed that ISIS fighters unwittingly may have been trained and equipped by the CIA in Turkey!
These facts about Syria’s opposition not only were ignored by Washington elites, but the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party continued to provide varying levels of support for the Syrian rebels (even as American troops went to Syria in order to decimate the ISIS caliphate that had grown there). America’s covert intelligence and military services had become lost in a wilderness of mirrors and shadows. Rather than step back from the situation and reassess, Washington just kept plunging forward, hoping that the problem would sort itself out with the right combination of American military aid and pressure.
Then came the added complication that Assad was being supported by Iran and Russia. Washington’s apparatchiks reasoned that the United States could not simply leave Syria then because to do so would be to hand the country over to Iran and Russia! Of course, under the Assad Regime, Syria has been a Russian client going back to the 1970s and an Iranian one going back to the 1980s. This is to say nothing of the fact that the Assad family belongs to the Alawite clan, which are a subgroup of the Shia Islam faith (and Iran is a predominantly Shiite state). Dislodging either Russia or Iran from Syria—without totally removing Assad from power—was a fantasy that only Washington’s uniparty could convince itself to believe.
Nevertheless, Washington chose to intensify its operations in Syria—risking war both with Russia and Iran, even as its Syrian “rebel” factions turned on America and each other.
What Comes After a Cluster%$#?
The Americans have long backed the Kurds, a distinct ethnic subgroup in the region that has longed for its own independent country for decades. Unfortunately, though, America’s NATO “ally” Turkey views the Kurds as terrorists seeking to undermine Turkish territorial integrity. Thus, Ankara has been at war with the Kurds for decades. As a result, a fellow NATO member found itself supporting and opposing U.S. efforts in Syria.
First, Turkey wanted to oust Assad early in the Syrian Civil War. When it became apparent that the United States was relying on Kurdish fighters to battle ISIS (which received some nominal support from Turkey in order to fight Assad), Turkey started covertly aiding ISIS, Russia, and Iran (at various times) in fighting the Kurds. Meanwhile, the Turks began turning on the United States because they thought the Americans were attempting to undermine their nation by supporting Kurdish independence in the region.
Whew! Syria has become a lot like that Detroit drug bust in which two different groups of undercover police officers (one group posing as drug purchasers and the other as drug dealers) attempted to arrest each other, not realizing that both groups were, in fact, undercover police officers!
President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria now that ISIS has mostly been defeated. So it’s strange to continue seeing headlines reading, “American-backed forces in Syria” are fighting a new offensive against Assad, ISIS, or whichever enemy is convenient. It’s possible American leaders had the best intentions about Syria: get rid of a violent autocrat. But, as with all of America’s foreign policy endeavors in the Middle East—just as with that drug operation in Detroit—there was little strategic thought put into accomplishing this goal. The messier things got, the messier Washington made the situation.
Thanks to this tomfoolery, the region is a total clusterf%$# and will be as long as American forces continue meddling in local affairs. Why not end the problem now and see what the locals do next? Why must the United States keep painting itself in the region as the villain?
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