By ending the “secret” CIA program to arm and train Syrian rebels attempting to topple Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Trump administration has accepted defeat in Syria, according to the Century Foundation, a prominent New York-based think tank.
The Century Foundation believes this signals an end to America’s commitment to achieving regime change in Syria and claims Washington’s attempt to topple Assad was half-hearted to begin with.
That being said, the Century Foundation also concedes that the program was doomed from the outset, stating:
“The problem with the program, which was reportedly running the CIA nearly a billion dollars a year, was not that it was under resourced or ‘insufficient in scale.’ The problem was that its logic was wrong and out of sync with the basic dynamics of the insurgency.” [emphasis added]
Whatever the program had going for it, its ludicrous nature came to light after the conflict took full swing and opposition groups gathered momentum, as the think tank explained:
“But the covert program’s theory of the case also fell apart when when [sic] it became clear that the armed opposition—which was supposed to extract political concessions from the regime—was increasingly permeated by sectarian extremists and de-linked from the civilian interlocutors with which the regime was meant to compromise.” [emphasis added]
The think tank then went further to explain why this might signal the end of the regime change operation in Syria, as America’s allies have started to lose interest in pursuing an agenda they can no longer realistically achieve:
“Moreover, it’s not clear many opposition backers will be willing to continue with this or a similar effort absent America’s political cover and leading role. Opposition sponsors—including most of the Gulf states—are exhausted, if not checked out on the opposition entirely. Saudi Arabia, preoccupied now with its war in Yemen, is no longer seriously invested in regime change in Syria.
Turkey has also give[n] up on regime change, instead preferring to negotiate with Russia over de-escalation and pursue its narrow national security ends. Qatar has been a rogue actor, participating in the joint arms program but also independently supporting Islamist factions in partnership with Turkey. But, as Qatar’s dispute with Saudi and the United Arab Emirates drags on, its standing internationally and with the United States specifically is precarious. Donald Trump is already telling fundraisers that Qatar funds terrorism—if Qatar decides this is the opportune moment to go all-in on the Nusra Front, well, that’s its prerogative.” [emphasis added]
There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the U.S. aimed to achieve regime change as early as 2012 — or at the latest by 2013 — yet Assad has shown no signs of stepping down some five years later. Though this is clear to the outside world, the problem is that the United States is never one to accept defeat outright. Not, at least, until they have completely left their destructive mark on everything that moves in the very country they are struggling to forcibly bring to its knees.
In other words, the Century Foundation makes some insightful points but doesn’t touch on the fact that the Pentagon backs groups in Syria that pose an equal threat to the Syrian state and is still continuing to back these groups quite heavily. The report doesn’t touch on the fact that, although it is common knowledge that the U.S. is partnering with the Kurds, the Trump administration is actually attempting to give the Kurds as much Syrian territory as possible, conveniently taking Syria’s most oil-rich region in the process. This would take the region directly out of the hands of the Syrian government, which retains an isolated military outpost there.
What happens if the Syrian government decides it doesn’t want the American-backed Kurds to take their most oil-rich city? Will regime change be back on the agenda?
It is worth noting that the Trump administration has merely axed one program that has proved incredibly ineffective and counter-intuitive but has not rolled back any of its other operations in Syria. Nevertheless, as the Century Foundation explains in its report, the U.S. has basically killed the CIA’s support base for Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliates (which, at the very least, is progress to a degree).
Despite this, the mainstream media has attempted to paint this issue as one in which Trump has handed Russia and Syria a treacherous victory in the Syrian conflict. At its peak, the CIA program was costing $1 billion a year to teach Syrian rebels potential terrorist tactics, yet Assad has only strengthened his position in the face of such an aggressive covert program.
It seems more likely that the U.S., which has vacillated between advocating and abandoning the strategy of regime change in the most schizophrenic of ways, is probably considering other approaches in regard to the Syrian conflict. At the very least, we should take note of the fact that Iran is Syria’s closest ally, and regime change in Iran has become an official U.S. strategy.
The other problem with this entire assessment is that no one is asking why on earth the United States is at war with Syria to begin with — not in relation to fighting the terror group ISIS, but more specifically, why the CIA was spending $1 billion a year to train rebels to overthrow a sovereign government in the first place.
Do we just accept this and dismiss it as unworthy of further scrutiny and criticism? If Russia spent $1 billion a year training rebels to overthrow the U.S. government, nobody would stand for it; and quite rightly so.
While the U.S. is accepting defeat when it comes to the Obama administration’s Syria strategy, its wars remain completely active in the Middle East. If anything, predicting the Trump administration’s next move is the tricky part, but you can be almost certain that the next move will not see anything close to a withdrawal from Syria or the wider Middle East region.