Mon, Jan 07, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Trump’s retreat from Syria offers hope for peace in the Middle East

The US president is right to withdraw from the Middle East, even if a major conflict results from the vaccuum, because stability would most likely come through a UN-brokered deal that sees imperialist powers staying out

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Illustration: Yusha

US President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal of US forces from Syria has met with near-universal condemnation by Democrats and Republicans alike. That says less about Trump than it does about the US’ foreign policy establishment’s blinkered vision.

The mainstream of both political parties exhibits certain reflexive judgements: that the US must maintain a troop presence all over the world to prevent adversaries from filling a vacuum; that US military might holds the key to foreign-policy success; and that the US’ adversaries are implacable foes impervious to diplomacy.

Trump’s withdrawal from Syria could indeed be a dangerous prelude to an expanded regional war; yet, with imagination and diplomacy, the withdrawal could be a critical step on the path to an elusive peace in region.

The US’ foreign policy establishment had rhetorically justified the US’ presence in Syria as part of the war on the Islamic State (IS) group. With the IS essentially defeated and dispersed, Trump called the establishment’s bluff. Yet suddenly, the establishment declared the actual reasons for the extended US presence.

Trump’s move would hand geopolitical advantages to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while imperiling Israel, betraying the Kurds and causing other ills that are essentially unrelated to the IS, Trump’s critics said.

This shift had the benefit of unmasking the US’ real purposes in the Middle East, which are not so obscure, after all, even though mainstream pundits, US establishment strategists and members of the US Congress tend not to mention them in polite company.

The US has not been in Syria — or Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Libya and elsewhere in the region — because of the IS. In fact, the group was more a consequence than a cause of the US’ presence. The real purposes have been US regional hegemony; and the real consequences have been disastrous.

The truth about the US presence in Syria has rarely been told, but one can be sure that Washington has had no scruples about democracy in Syria or elsewhere in the region, as its warm embrace of Saudi Arabia amply demonstrates.

The US decided to promote an insurgency to overthrow al-Assad in 2011 not because the US and allies like Saudi Arabia longed for Syrian democracy, but because they decided that al-Assad was a hindrance to the US’ regional interests. Al-Assad’s sins were clear: He allied with Russia and he received support from Iran.

For these reasons, former US president Barack Obama and former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that “al-Assad must go.”

The US and its regional partners, including Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, decided to provide arms, logistics, training, and sanctuary — notably in Jordan and Turkey — for a rebellion against al-Assad.

Obama signed a presidential finding, Operation Timber Sycamore, calling on the CIA to work with Saudi Arabia, the paymasters, to overthrow al-Assad. Obama, seeking to avoid strong US public opposition to yet another CIA-led war with US troops on the ground, chose to back jihadists instead.

Yet the purpose of the Syrian operation was clear: install a Syrian regime friendly to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, deny Russia an ally and push Iranian forces out of Syria. It all seemed so obvious to the US, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

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