The US administration has stopped the dithering, David Ignatius wrote on 30 August: It now insists that it has 'enduring interests' in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists — and “that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria, anytime soon”. “Right now”, one administration official told Ignatius, “our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime], until we get what we want”.
The US, it seems, switched policy in mid-August, (away from the Helsinki understandings of July, reached between Presidents Trump and Putin), to a quest for somehow retrieving maximum leverage over the ultimate stages of the Syrian civil war. It represents, apparently, a last-ditch attempt to impose the US will over the Syrian warscape - through keeping the jihadist ‘card’ in Idlib in play, as leverage over any political transition; and similarly, by holding on to the Kurdish ‘PKK stick’ in north-east Syria, as leverage over Turkey and to contain Iran.
We are, indeed, seeing a 180° degree turn: Pompeo’s new Syria envoy, James Jeffry, has made that crystal clear: “Now”, he said, “the United States will not tolerate ‘an attack - Period”. (Referring to the imminent offensive on the Jihadi enclave, in Idlib Province.)
“Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation” he said. “You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refugee flows or attack innocent civilians … the consequences … are that we will shift our positions”… Asked whether potential U.S. retaliation for any offensive in Idlib, with or without chemical weapons, would include airstrikes, Jeffrey said, “We have asked repeatedly for permission to operate,” and “that would be one way” [to respond].
The objective is to drive Iran from Syria; to inflict a humiliating strategic slap to the Islamic Republic to compound the economic ‘diet’ imposed on its economy; to lever a political transition, in which President Assad is ousted; and above all, to avoid conceding any appearance of US strategic weakness.
Russia's leadership was already wary that the US was intending to derail the last major coalition operation to conclude the Syrian conflict. This is now confirmed. A senior Kremlin official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, that American officials want to play spoiler, big time: "They are angry that we’ve gotten an upper hand in dealing with this crisis, and now they want to put their spokes into every wheel we are trying to make roll".
It goes further than that: with the Jeffrey language of ‘no attacks, period'; with the State Department language hinting at further economic sanctions, as leverage; and the threats against Iran, are provocations and effectively ultimata against Russia and Iran.
This is a grave ‘turn’ of events. We do not know why Trump should have turned his back on his Helsinki ‘understandings’ so emphatically – except for the extraordinary political and psychological pressures that Trump is under: The funeral ‘apotheosis’ of McCain as the essence of ‘American virtues’, the seditionist New York Times op-ed by a ‘senior’ WH staff member of the ‘Resistance’, which specifically claimed success in sabotaging Trump’s policy of détente with Russia; the Woodward book ridiculing the President; and now with Obama having joined this chorus on Friday with an obvious insinuation that Trumpism somehow is feeding Nazi-ism.
It is now 60 days until the mid-term elections. And, as Tom Luongo writes, “the fear of loss by the Deep State is palpable … And what is clear to me now, is that the Deep State is done whipping the progressive Left into a frenzy over Donald Trump. They are now openly handing them pitchforks and mustering for a hostile takeover of the Oval Office".
This is the point. ‘No more dithering’ (as Ignatius put it). The so-called Resistance is going all out – à outrance – both to discredit Trump politically before the mid-term elections, and to discredit, and to demonise Russia (with the UK - as usual - doing its supporting act by indicting two Russians in the Skripal case).
Europe has ‘come into play’ politically as a result of Trump’s trade wars, his disdain for NATO, and his contempt for the EU’s ‘liberal’ globalist élite. The self-appointed ‘Resistance’ is ready therefore ‘to go all out’ - not only domestically against Trump, but against Russia, too, to ensure it – and its huge consumer market – cannot slip away into the Russian-Chinese sphere. Russia must be blackened as the ‘enemy’ with whom any alliance is unthinkable.
Are ‘these people’ really ready to taunt Russia and Iran, to the point of facing-off against them, militarily? It seems so: James Jeffrey said just such, to the Washington Post: “In some respects, we are potentially entering a new phase, where you have forces from the different countriesfacing each other, rather than pursuing their separate goals”, he said, listing Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey and Israel. In other words, the ‘Resistance’ will ‘go all out’ in the lead up to November, both domestically against Trump, and externally, by trying to provoke, to taunt Russia into some act that will enable the ‘Resistance’ to portray Russia as ‘new wine in an old USSR bottle’.
James Jeffrey warns Russia ‘no (Idlib) offensive – period’ in order to finish off the last abscess of hardline jihadists. But the offensive has already begun. What then happened at Friday’s Tehran summit meeting between Erdogan, Putin and Ruhani? Commentators are saying that no agreement was reached on the Idlib offensive – that the US succeeded: Its tough stance against the attack on the jihadists brought the offensive to a holt. But in fact, the key agreement already was struck before the summit, rather than at it – Turkey put HTS (also known as an-Nusra, or al Qa’eda) on its list of terrorists. This was the key -– the significant outcome.
Erdogan is a politician, a consummate politician. He has been patron to these insurgents. He sees himself as a Sunni leader, an Ottoman, the ‘guide’ to the global Muslim Brotherhood. He was vitally instrumental in the Syria insurgency – the cause of it, as it were. But now the jihadi continuing presence in Idlib is unsustainable (even for Turkey), yet how can he – politically - disavow these insurgents, whom Turkey so carefully nurtured? What might be the consequences in terms of security (bombings in Istanbul?) of publicly siding with their destruction? What would be the damage to his cultivated image as an upholder of Sunnism?
What was needed was a platform on which a politician’s needs to attend his various constituencies were seen publicly – and on television – to have been met. And this is what happened. Erdogan stood up for them. He argued his position – as representative of one powerful state to other powerful states – underlining his (political) interest. Yes, he ‘grandstanded’. Why else would Putin and Rouhani have permitted such a seemingly sloppy performance of the principals apparently arguing amongst themselves – and before the cameras – unless it was understood that Erdogan needed to ‘grandstand’?
Turkey has already designated an-Nusra as terrorists. The offensive will continue (and civilian casualties will inevitably occur, as the jihadists are merged into Idlib's civilian population -- as indeed happened when the US, the UK and France bombed Raqqa to rout out ISIS in 2017 with "more artillery shells launched into Raqqa than anywhere since the end of the Vietnam war”).
And the Americans probably will do their own ‘grandstanding’ – possibly with Tomahawks - to show Russia and Syria as ‘inhuman monsters’.