Officer: “What are our orders sir?”…
Pentagon: “We will convene a panel of bureaucrats to put together a study no one will read and report back in six months.”
* * *
Since entering office President Trump’s long term policy on Syria has remained somewhat of a mystery. With at least 2,000 US troops still occupying parts of Syria’s east, and with Russia’s recent transfer of S-300 anti-missile defense systems to Damascus, the continuing potential for the region to explode into a global war remains high, even as much of the country returns to the government fold.
But it appears the White House’s Syria policy is still uncertain to top advisers and even to Trump himself. Last Friday in a vastly under-reported but hugely important move, Trump authorized the creation of a Congressional ‘Syria Study Group’ to examine US strategy on Syria.
One of the lead Senators pushing for the panel, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) accurately described in an almost comically ironic quote: it “will bring outside experts together to finally develop a U.S. strategy in Syria.”
Indeed, too much truth in one soundbite: the senator wants to finally develop a U.S. strategy in Syria… this after pursuing regime change there for years, arming fanatical jihadists, bombing government forces multiple times, and illegally stationing over 2,000 troops in a sovereign UN member state.
This comes after early this year Trump indicated he wants US troops in Syria to return home “very soon”; however, after a chemical weapons provocation last April he was pressured to change course and signaled an indefinite military presence.
The Washington Examiner explains the details of this new Congressional study group:
With his signature Friday, President Trump cleared the way for Congress to begin a months-long review of his evolving strategy in Syria.
The creation of a 12-member Syria Study Group was tucked inside an unrelated bill Trump just signed into law, the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The legislation allows Republicans and Democrats to appoint experts to the panel, which is mandated to hand a final report to Congress in six months.
The Trump administration has in recent months signaled that it’s priority in Syria will be curtailing Iranian influence and presence in the region. This after the original justification for the Pentagon’s presence — the defeat of the Islamic State — becomes a harder and harder fiction to maintain as the terror group has long been driven underground and is now insignificant.
In another revealing quote related to fighting Iran in the region, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said ahead of Trump’s singing the bill into law last week: “While we don’t have any direct military tasks that have been given to us in terms of that, we do recognize that our presence on the ground, our development of good partners on the ground does have an impact on Iranian activities.”
Notably the final report will assess the various roles of both Iran, Russia, and other groups like Hezbollah in the conflict, and will provide “options for a gradual political transition to a post-Assad Syria,” according to the legislation.
With such language as “gradual political transition to a post-Assad Syria,” this could either mean Washington is finally admitting defeat as Assad is here to stay, or it could also signal that regime change in Syria will be forever on the table and high on the Washington agenda.
But with Russia staying the course in Syria, and with Assad now armed with the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system, the Washington hawks now have very few options. All they can do is pretend that the US didn’t just lose the seven-year proxy war, hence the establishment of the ‘Syria Study Group’ which won’t produce a thing for another six months.