Articles - Addostour - Date: 2018-12-22
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

The unexpected has happened.

The prevailing view was that Washington was working towards establishing a permanent presence in Northeastern Syria and was about to declare it a 'no-fly' zone in a repetition of what happened in Northern Iraq in 1991, as U.S. Syrian Envoy James Jeffrey put it. Moreover, State Department and Pentagon spokespersons, including Jeffrey, were linking the future of their country's military presence in Syria to defeating ISIS, as well as ending Iran's military presence in the country and ensuring a balanced political process after seven lean years of war in and on Syria.

But against this background, the White House announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, ending a military presence that has continued to be the subject of push-and-pull, a source of concern for Damascus, a reason for wariness for Moscow, a cause for all of Iran's worries, and a thorn in Ankara's throat. In fact, the White House spokespersons set a short timetable of between two to three months, or a little more, to end this presence.

But this is the U.S. in the era of Donald Trump. It is closest to the 'Qadhafist' school in managing foreign security and defense policy. It sends signals that it is moving in one direction, only to move in the exact opposite direction. This is Washington, which worried the world with its successive affirmations of its intention to uproot Iran from Syria and clip its wings, cut 'Putin's victory' down to size,  shackle Assad with all sorts of chains and fetters, and protect the Kurds, its trusted ally in the war on ISIS. It is Washington that has said all this, but which, in a single moment, has done the exact opposite.

There are two main losers from the U.S. decision where, even if there was much talk about it in the past two years, all indications on the ground suggested that what was taking place was the opposite of what Donald Trump was publicly declaring. And this continued until Trump recently decided to pull the remnants of his administration together and push them forcefully to withdraw from all Syrian territories. By 'all Syrian territories', we understand this to refer to Northeastern Syria; but more importantly for us in Jordan, to Southeastern Syria – namely, the U.S. al-Tanf Base near our borders with Syria just a stone's throw away from Rukban [Syrian refugee] Camp that is a cause for concern for us.

The primary losers from all this are Syria's Kurds. Their spokespersons speak of 'betrayal' and 'a stab in the back,' and have taken to the media, issuing threats and warnings. It is as if they have not learned their predecessors' lessons, having refused to heed the advice of friends and foes alike warning them that 'whoever uses the U.S. to wrap himself up might as well be naked' [as former Egyptian president Husni Mubarak reportedly said]. 

The Kurds' arrows have missed their targets and their wagers have failed. And their only option today is to make up their minds quickly without procrastination – within weeks and not months – and choose one of only two paths: Either to wait for the Turkish hordes that are eager to head for the great duel with 'the terrorist entity' [the Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria], or to open the door for the Syrian regime's return to their areas and reach a settlement with Damascus. The latter would speed up the Syrian army's deployment in Manbij and East of the Euphrates under a Russian sponsorship that would spare them having to face the 'feverish yearning for a decisive battle' that is growing in the Turks' hearts.

The second loser is Israel. In describing Trump's move, Israel's Channel-2 TV repeated in Hebrew what the Kurds had said in Kurdish: 'Betrayal,' 'a slap in the face,' 'a stab in the back,' and so on. For after this decision, Tel Aviv's only option is to 'pull out its thorns in Syria using its own hands.' And that is a mission that was difficult before the U.S. decision, and is now even more difficult after it. After all, Iran will remain in Syria as long as this is to Damascus and Tehran's liking, while scattered and mostly showy Israeli strikes will not achieve Netanyahu's 'strategic' objective of uprooting the Iranian presence from Syria.

As for the list of winners from the U.S. decision, it is long. It begins with Beirut's Southern suburbs [Hezbollah's stronghold] and reaches Tehran via Damascus. Suffice to note that the Russian Foreign Ministry was the first to welcome this American move for us to identify the fourth winner in this list, alongside Turkey. A heavy burden has been lifted from Ankara's shoulders, and it can now get rid of the challenge of the establishment of an independent or semi-independent Kurdish entity once and for all, either via the Astana track and coordination with Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran, or via direct intervention by its forces and soldiers, or via indirect intervention by the armies of the unemployed opposition groups' 'mercenaries.' For the latter no longer have any mission to fulfill other than that of 'advanced reconnaissance patrols' that move in front of the Turkish armies.

This is a qualitative development and an important game-changer in the Syrian crisis. While eyes were focused on Staffan de Mistura's last presentation to the UN Security Council, they have now shifted to another focus after the Security Council session has lost its value despite the fact that just a few days ago, James Jeffrey had described as a major turning-point between two tracks: The Astana/Sochi track, and a return to the Geneva track, suggesting the beginning of the countdown to a major confrontation with Russia, Iran, and even Turkey.

What a poor fellow this Jeffrey is! No U.S. envoy before him has been let down by his president in the same manner. And I suppose that the time has come for his resignation, assuming that he retains vestige of professionalism and self-respect.