A New Act in the Jeffrey-Jolani Play
Reem Issa Reem Issa

A New Act in the Jeffrey-Jolani Play

There are certain characters whose roles do not seem to be written clearly in the script; nevertheless, their roles continue developing slowly in the background, then they make a small appearance every once in a while, so that we can get a glimpse of how they have developed.

One of these characters in the “play” is al-Jolani, who went from a globally wanted dangerous head of a terrorist al-Qaeda affiliate organization to a Western, especially US, darling. We might even see him soon a Syrian hero behind whose wise leadership the masses should line up on the path to Syria’s salvation from the excess wisdom of its leaders.

In the last episode of this series that Kassioun has dedicated to following the “play”, nearly two months ago, we talked about the latest efforts to whitewash al-Nusra and al-Jolani when he appeared dressed in “western” clothes with Martin Smith, an American journalist, in Idlib, thus metaphorically and literally shedding off the “terrorist costume”.

Last Friday, April 2, PBS (one of the largest American media outlets) published through FRONTLINE an article about al-Jolani and excerpts from the interview that Smith conducted with him.

The article’s author, Priyanka Boghani, sets the tone early on by saying “he and his organization have fought against Assad’s forces, Assad’s Russian and Iranian allies, and Jolani’s own former allies in ISIS and Al Qaeda”. All these “wars” trigger with the American / Western reader a simple idea: al-Jolani launched wars against enemies of the US and evil forces in the world. The article then clearly states that what al-Jolani is doing “reflected common interests with the United States and the West”.

The article from beginning to end is the latest in a series of statements from US figures and outlets to whitewash al-Jolani. The most prominent episode of this series is directed by James Jeffrey, who until recently was the US envoy to Syria, and who started early on paving the path for al-Jolani, then in one of his briefings in January 2020, while still serving in that position, he expressed the possibility of delisting al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, which we extensively discussed at the time.

Going back to Boghani’s article, Jeffrey volunteered to contribute to the latest episode, as the article mentions that Jeffrey recently told Martin Smith “that Jolani’s organization was ‘an asset’ to America’s strategy in Idlib” and that they (i.e., al-Nusra) “are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib”.

“Quagmire”, “Stalemate is Stability”, and Partition

What Jeffrey says about the US strategy in Idlib being served with a group like al-Nusra is exactly consistent with the US strategy in Syria, which can be summarized with two concepts that he himself had provided: making Syria a “quagmire” and keeping the quagmire stagnant or as he said it “stalemate is stability”. How this gets translated on the ground though requires ongoing work to be able to maintain that stagnation and “stability”, which ironically requires constant movement and changes like the type we see with al-Jolani and his evolution within the US rhetoric.

There is an arena (other than al-Nusra), in which there are indicators appearing of very hard work being done, and something we have previously discussed in different ways, which aims to prolong the de facto partitioning of the country into the at least three regions, without letting that get to the point of actual partitioning recognized in the traditional ways (because that is just not possible).

In this way, it becomes understandable why there is insistence for these three regions to continue being “at war” with one another and continue being closed off of each other at all levels, especially economically. This is evident in the dual position opposing any crossings between the three regions, and the demands for crossings between each and a neighboring country. In this manner, divergent, separate, and even warring economic, cultural, political, and mental patterns are established, in a way that guarantees keeping the fire ablaze for many years to come.

This general plan requires the implementation of what the RAND institute proposed about 5 years ago, when it focused on what it called “bottom-up reform” through local elections in each region separately. That is, what is required is establishment or fixing of not one government, but at least three governments, or more if possible. That is, perpetuating the situation as is in all its different terms. This is what has become deeply understood by the warlords, thieves, and corruption figures from all Syrian sides, and based on which they set their rhythm, while they flirt with the US under and over the table, whether directly or through accusations, insults, and dirty games against the enemies and opponents of the US, even if these are “allies”.

“We are Only Discussing the Idea Theoretically”

Another important step in these “quagmire-ish” efforts is to start popularizing the “discussion” about partitioning and looking at its “cons and pros”. That is, breaking down the psychological barriers of the idea and turning it into a “mere discussion”.

One recent example of this was a panel discussion organized by the US-based Middle East Institute in mid-March, in which the moderator asks: “is it possible to have a united Syria again?” then adds “is there a space for Syrians… to live together in Syria again?” After most of the panelists, who were all Syrian, said yes it would be possible, she rephrases the question and asks: “why is that even necessary? Is that (keeping Syria unified) a good idea, given everything that has happened and given the realities on the ground? Is it realistic to have a united democratic Syria or is it more pragmatic, if not desirable, to have a kind of seven or eight semi-autonomous states?”

Some Syrian personalities also participate in the party, and, indeed very coincidentally, many of these personalities happen to be “defectors” from relatively high ranks and positions, where they theorize about the end of the concept of territorial sovereignty of the state and the emergence of new concepts, the outcome of which is not only accepting the de facto partition, but considering it the better and more rational choice.

Additionally, we cannot forget, within this recalling of Syrian contributions from the various sides, the blatant feeding on the idea of partitioning, through speeches and actions, some of which reach the level of clowning around by laying a foundation stone here and another there. This is something that has been happening for some time, as some have expressed ideas about establishing alternative centers to “rival” Damascus, including establishing a “rival” army, justice system, and economy, and insisting on keeping “their regions” separate from other Syrian regions, and so on.

The Way Forward

It has become clear that the US policy in Syria revolves around maintaining a state of war, not only among Syrians, but also in the entire region, through achieving as much attrition as possible. A state like this can be further supported by ensuring maintenance of the de facto partition of the country. In addition, of course, there is the deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation pursuant to the criminality of the big corruption figures and the sanctions.

All this means one clear thing: It is not permissible in any way to fall into the illusion of a possible agreement with the US. The actual solution can only begin with the actual implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254 in its entirety, and only then will the US be compelled to join. Before that happens, and as Jeffrey fully expressed when asked about the US military presence in Syria, explaining that the overall number of that presence is in small numbers (meaning a small cost) but with big results and effectiveness, to finish with that this effectiveness is to turn Syria into a quagmire. This is not the policy of the Trump administration, this is not the policy of the Biden administration, this is the US policy in Syria.

 (Arabic version)

Useful Relevant Articles

“RAND – Al Nusra”… Pandora’s Box! – 9 January 2018

Washington’s Agenda: One Item… No Solution! – 10 February 2020

The Comedic Play Starring the Trio: Jeffrey, Malley, and Jolani – 23 February 2020

The “Compassionate” US, Abu al-Fath al-Farghali, and Wholesale “Coincidences” – 13 April 2020

Regarding “Caesar”, “RAND”, and the Northeast and the Kurdish-Kurdish Dialogue – 25 May 2020

We Should Believe Schenker, but we Should Believe Jeffrey too! – 8 June 2020

Jeffrey Wants the “Quagmire Mission” to Go on… “Stalemate is Stability” – 16 November 2020

Why Do They Want the War to Continue? – 7 December 2020

Partitioning is Easier for the Warlords than Implementing 2254 – 21 December 2020

Some of the Actors Left the Stage, but the Play Goes on, with Jolani in a New Costume! -- 8 February 2021

The Situation is “Most Dire” in All of Syria – 30 March 2021