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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/20/18

Trump's Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation

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The fact that "The Coalition told The Defense Post that 'north army' was not a recognized term in Syria," indicates the importance Washington places on its particular "product branding." The "border security force" (BSF) moniker helps to conceal the fact that Washington has armed and trained a mainly-Kurdish proxy-army to pursue Washington's strategic objectives in Syria which include toppling the government of Bashar al Assad, splintering the country into smaller tribal-run territories, and installing a compliant stooge in the Capitol who will follow Washington's diktats.

In order to achieve those goals, Washington has had to make critical concessions to its Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is "an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG." The Kurds expect the US to honor its demands for a Kurdish homeland, an autonomous statelet carved out of Syria's northeast quadrant, the portion of territory east of the Euphrates captured during the fight against ISIS. Tillerson's announcement confirmed that the US will support the defense of this territory by its Kurdish proxies inferring that the Trump administration has thrown its weight behind the unilateral creation of a Kurdish state in east Syria. (Publicly, the US opposes the creation of Kurdistan, but its actions on the ground, indicate its support.) Naturally, this has not gone-over well with the other countries in the region that have struggled to contain Kurdish aspirations for a homeland. The leaders of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose the emergence of a Kurdistan, although Turkey's president Erdogan has been the most outspoken by far. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet:

"President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to thwart the creation of a U.S-backed 30,000-strong border security force manned mostly by the People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Turkey's armed forces completed preparations for an operation against the YPG in their strongholds Afrin, in northwestern Syria, and Manbij, in northern Syria, Erdoğan said on Jan. 15 at an opening ceremony in Ankara.

"'The operation may start any time. Operations into other regions will come after,' the president said, noting that the Turkish army was already hitting YPG positions.

"'America has acknowledged it is in the process of creating a terror army on our border. What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud,' Erdoğan said...'We won't be responsible for the consequences.'" (The Hurriyet)

It's worth noting that the US never consulted its NATO ally, Turkey, before initiating its current plan. This suggests that the foreign policy wonks who concocted this misguided scheme must have thought that Erdogan and his fellows would be duped by the paper-thin public relations smokescreen of "border security." Washington's reliance on Information Operations and propaganda may have clouded its judgement and impaired its ability to understand how their public relations scam could blow up in their faces. (which it did.)

Despite the foofaraw, there's nothing new about Washington's determination to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, in fact, that has been the plan from Day 1. The basic US strategy in Syria has been modified many times in the last few years, particularly after Syrian forces liberated Syria's industrial hub, Aleppo, which was the turning point in the conflict. Since then, news has circulated about a Plan B, which accepts the reality that Assad will remain in power after the war has ended, but redirects US efforts towards more achievable goals like seizing the vast expanse of land east of the Euphrates which can be used for future regime-destabilizing operations.

The basic outline for Plan B was presented in a Brookings Institute report by chief military analyst, Michael O' Hanlon. Here's a clip from his 2014 article titled "Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America's most hopeless war":

"...the only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria...the international community should work to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria over time... Creation of these sanctuaries would produce autonomous zones that would never again have to face the prospect of rule by either Assad or ISIL." ("Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America's most hopeless war," Michael E. O'Hanlon, Brookings Institute)

The occupation of east Syria by Kurdish proxies is consistent with O'Hanlon's basic plan to fragment the country and create pockets of resistance that will be supported by the US. It is a variation of the divide and conquer theme the US has used in numerous times in the past.

Plan B is Washington's fallback position now that regime change is no longer within reach. The strategy suggests that Washington never planned to leave after ISIS was defeated, but always intended to stay on to establish bases in the east, (According to Bloomberg News, the US now has 10 permanent bases east of the Euphrates) support an army of occupation, and continue the war against the current government. That's still the plan today, notwithstanding Washington's failed attempt to conceal its motives behind its pathetic "border security force". Erdogan and the rest have already seen through that sham and expressed their unhappiness.

The problem with Plan B is that it presumes that Russia and its coalition partners will try to liberate Kurdish-held east Syria and, thus, get bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict that turns out to be a strategic nightmare as well as a public relations disaster. This is the scenario that Washington is hoping for. In fact...

Trump's chief national security advisor Lieutenant General H.R McMaster has written extensively on the topic and explained exactly how to undermine the efforts of an advancing army. Here's an excerpt from a presentation McMaster gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, 2016. He said:

"...what is required to deter a strong nation that is waging limited war for limited objectives on battlegrounds involving weaker states ... is forward deterrence, to be able to ratchet up the cost at the frontier, and to take an approach to deterrence that is consistent with deterrence by denial, convincing your enemy that your enemy is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach and the threat of punitive action at long distance later, which we know obviously from -- recent experience confirms that that is inadequate."

"Forward deterrence"? This needs to be clarified.

What McMaster is saying, is that, instead of threatening to retaliate at some time in the future, the US should use "deterrence by denial," that is, make it as hard and as costly as possible for Russia to achieve its strategic objectives. (McMaster's comments focus on Russia's involvement in Syria.) By supporting its Kurdish fighters and establishing permanent US bases, McMaster thinks the US can frustrate Russia's effort to restore Syria's borders which is one of the primary goals of the mission. The objective of forward deterrence is not to win the war, but to prevent the enemy from winning. The downside to this theory is that -- when neither side prevails -- there is no political settlement, no end to the fighting, and no path for returning people to their homes so they can resume their lives in peace and security. It is, in fact, a plan designed to perpetuate the suffering, perpetuate the destruction and perpetuate the bloodletting. It's a solution that provides no solution, a war without end.

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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