Two Approaches to US Presence in Syria… What Has Prompted the Question Now?
Foreign Affairs magazine published two articles, one month apart, about the issue of US withdrawal from Syria. The second article came as a response to the first, where the first made the case at length for US withdrawal from Syria. The response in the second one came from former US Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, who wrote a very brief response that US forces should stay in Syria.
It is quite clear that the first article provoked Jeffrey and the current he represents in the US policy towards Syria. This current is the one that wants to prolong the crisis in Syria, not to implement projects or achieve tangible results for the US in Syria, but to be an obstacle in the way of others’ projects and an obstacle before making any progress towards a political solution in Syria, one which would reunite Syria and Syrians, and restores Syria to a position that enables it to get back its historical role in the region, which would mean a direct threat to the only remaining US project in the region: the Zionist.
The First Article: “An Exist Strategy for Syria: The Case for Withdrawing U.S. Troops”
Foreign Affairs, which is a US magazine published by the well-known American think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, published on October 10 an article with the above title, by Christopher Alkhoury. Perhaps a good place to start is where Alkhoury finished, where he said at the end of the article: “Nearly seven years after the first U.S. boots hit the ground in Syria, it is time for Washington to withdraw its troops. A U.S. military presence in Syria is no longer a strategic asset; it is a vulnerability”. This was the response to the following question that he posed in the beginning of the article: “Is a continued U.S. military presence in Syria necessary, and it worthwhile?”
In his argument, the article’s author says that the status quo in Syria, “every day that passes increases the risks to U.S. forces and weakens, not strengthens, the United States’ bargaining position in terms of what can be obtained from Assad and Russia in exchange for a U.S. departure”. Alkhoury advises that “the United States should focus on negotiating an exist that, as quickly as possible, secures its two core interests in Syria: U.S. access to Syrian airspace and the safety of Syrians who fought alongside U.S. forces to defeat ISIS”.
Alkhoury adds that the main mission for US presence in Syria was to fight ISIS, but the latter is no longer the side that is mainly responsible for violence in Syria. Meaning, “the activity of the approximately 900 U.S. military personnel stationed in Syria is also significantly down from its peak… and U.S. troops are not conducting as many partnered missions with the SDF”. In this context, Alkhoury notes that the most recent special operations the US conducted against ISIS were in places other than northeastern Syria, where US forces are present. Accordingly, he says, and since US forces have achieved their original mission, now the US can do whatever is needed without being on the ground. Here, Alkhoury says that the US approach should be “withdrawing amicably enough to maintain relations with its Syrian partners so that the United States can continue to use human intelligence and to secure access to Syrian airspace. Despite current geopolitical tensions, a U.S. departure loosely coordinated with Russia is the only way to achieve these objectives”.
Who is Christopher Alkhoury?
Before moving on to the second article, i.e., Jeffrey’s response, it might be useful to take a quick look at the author of the first article, Christopher Alkhoury. According to Foreign Affairs, Alkhoury served as Iraq and Syria Policy Advisor with the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from January 2017 to December 2019. He most recently served as Senior Policy Advisor at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which is a nonprofit organization established in December 2016 by former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, which aims to advise governments and political leaders in “building open, inclusive, and prosperous societies in an increasingly interconnected world”. According to one source, Alkhoury is of Lebanese descent.
The Second Article: “The Case for Keeping U.S. Troops in Syria”
The same magazine published exactly a month after the first article, so a few days ago on November 10, a second article with the above title. This came as a response to the first article, written by former US Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey. It might be useful here also to start with the last sentence of the article, where Jeffrey said: “in an era of increasing geostrategic competition, including with Russia and Iran, the United States must avoid giving away unnecessary strategic victories. The Syrian freeze might not be pretty, but it is likely what limited victory will look like going forward in Syria and perhaps elsewhere”.
In the beginning of the article, Jeffrey says that “America’s presence helps check regional powers” and that in Syria, “the U.S. approach is succeeding, if modestly, and U.S. strategic interests abound”. He tries to shed light on errors in Alkhoury’s argument, saying that “withdrawing from Syria would endanger regional interests of the United States and of the international community”. He adds that “the core result of Alkhoury’s proposal, although he wisely tries to play it down, would be to give the Russians greater diplomatic and military bandwidth to increase their pressure on Turkey and Israel to withdraw from Syria as well. That would eventually… hand Russia and Iran a strategic victory”. He also says that withdrawing means that “the United States would be transforming a relatively effective in-country operation that has just 900 soldiers – none of whom have been killed in almost four years – into an offshore effort against ISIS”.
In his response, Jeffrey says that the withdrawal of US forces will not help in solving the underlying war on the basis of a political compromise. Though he does not explain how the presence of US troops on the ground can help in that. This is not strange for Jeffrey, as everything he said and did previously, whether while a US Envoy to Syria or after he left the position, does not indicate anyway that a political solution in Syria was on his priority list. We have said this repeatedly in our reading of his statements, and it also goes with him saying in this article that withdrawal will undo the results that US policies have achieved “by coordinating U.S., Turkish, and Israeli military operations to freeze the conflict”.
A Quick Overview of Relevant Past Kassioun Articles
What Jeffrey says in his response to Alkhoury’s article is consistent with US policy towards Syria, on which Jeffrey worked very hard when he was Washington’s envoy to Syria. Among these policies is the way the US dealt and worked with the terrorist Al-Nusra Front; more can be read about this in this August article (in Arabic), which summarized a number of articles about the subject. The US approach to Al-Nusra contributed to the US’ objectives in Syria, which Jeffrey alluded to in many of his statements and articles, like when he said in a discussion in which he participated in mid-2020 that the function of US military presence in Syria is “to make it a quagmire for the Russians”. Later that year, after he announced his retirement, he made statements and advised the incoming US Administration – which was to take office in January 2021, so the Biden Administration – on which we shed light in a previous article. The essence of Jeffrey’s advice at the time was that stability in Syria, which should be maintained, is through a “stalemate”, that is, continuing with the same policies the US has adopted in Syria until that time, and maintaining the dire reality.
What Can be Understood from Alkhoury’s Article and Jeffrey’s Response?
Merely having a public discussion in newspapers and magazines about possibilities of staying or withdrawal, reflects not only the known general truth about there being an overall division within the American elite regarding all of the US’s foreign policies, but also that there is now at stake within the framework of making decisions about US policies what is related to our region, and implicitly Syria.
To put things in context, we should point out that the public discussion or really clash, and at this level, between opinions calling for staying in Syria or leaving it, had completely disappeared even before Trump left, so more than two years ago. We no longer hear this type of arguments, and everyone seems unified on one opinion, which is staying. They even lectures about the necessity of staying regardless of the crisis and its solution, but rather the need to stay for decades to come.
The surfacing of this argument in public means that the issue is again up for serious discussion, not only because of internal American division, but naturally due to the new international situation with the intensity and dangers associated therewith.
Jeffrey’s response to Alkhoury’s article seems to be charged with a high degree of anger. After all, how dare anyone put forth such a proposal – withdrawal of forces – that undermines and throws away all the US’s work to achieve what it has over the past decade in Syria? However, Alkhoury, for whom we could not find many articles on Syria, surely is not the only one who has proposed that US forces withdraw from Syria. However, his proposal might represent a current in the US that looks at American military presence aboard, especially in our region, to be useless and does not serve US interests, or at least that its disadvantages and losses outweigh its advantages and benefits in the framework of the raging international conflict.
It should be noted that what Alkhoury and Jeffrey agree on and what they represent is that the issue of reaching a political solution and change in Syria is not only off the priorities’ list, but it is nearly overtly on the list of taboos, which are things that harm US national security.
The two individuals/currents agree that “Israel” needs to continue having the ability in sabotaging the entire region, and Syria in particular. They also agree on the need to keep some form of a de facto division of Syria. All of these are goals that cannot be achieved if Syria proceeds towards a comprehensive political solution on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2254.
Whether the position leans towards the US forces withdrawing or staying, the agreement is that a political solution is not a priority at all, which as we noted is more of a threat to US/Zionist interests. This should be kept in mind when someone following the Syria file notices that US movements with regard to Syria have entered an activity wave over the last two months, though this wave has started receding over the last two weeks.
Said wave started immediately after the Tehran Summit, and included a wave of various activities, including military, diplomatic, economic, and media. It also included activation of some puppets among the extremists within the opposition, in parallel with the major corruptors and warlords who are controlling things inside Syria as well as extremists within the regime to continue pushing the country towards additional destruction, which is gaining speed, through policies that result in hunger, displacement, and destroying any remaining production.
All of this together, while not entirely new, nevertheless have something new represented by two aspects. The first aspect is the level of accumulation therein achieved over the years, which has reached or nearly had reached a very dangerous and explosive threshold. The second aspect is the speed of going towards the abyss, at which the warlords and the criminal major corruptors who are in control within the regime and opposition alike are working.
All of this, in addition to the dangerous international situation and how fast it is moving, allow us to say that what appears on the surface as stagnation, calm, and freeze in the Syrian file is nothing but a temporary calm that will be followed by major storms, with all the dangerous possibilities and positive possibilities alike that come therewith.