Spreading the Syrian Chaos

Nearly two decades ago, U.S. neoconservatives put Syria on their “regime change” list and have maintained that goal to the present day, placing it ahead of even blocking the spread of Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism. That chaos has now drawn in Turkey as it advances its own geopolitical agenda, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

The conflict in Syria, complex even by the standard of civil wars, has not presented U.S. policymakers with anything close to a clear opportunity to weigh in on the side of good guys against bad ones. There have been too many bad guys on multiple sides of this war.

The understanding that the United States reached last month with Turkey, according to which the latter evidently agreed to focus more on countering the so-called Islamic State or ISIS as distinct from its other objectives in Syria, would appear to have simplified a bit the lines of contention in the war from the U.S. point of view. But only a bit, if that. Turkish military operations in the area since announcement of the agreement with the United States have focused at least as much on Kurdish militias as on ISIS.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

A prominent feature of the U.S.-Turkish accord is the declared intention of both governments to exclude ISIS from a zone along the border area of northern Syria. Given continued uncertainties about Turkish priorities, major questions persist about just what this zone entails. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front has expressed its own uncertainties about this.

An even bigger question is: if this zone is not to be a depopulated no-man’s land, then who will control it and administer it? The ludicrously few vetted “moderates” trained with U.S. help are in no position to do so, and reportedly part of the understanding with the Turks was that Kurdish militias were not going to be allowed to move into any vacuum in the area in question.

A look at a map shows the prospective zone to be a useful plug of a gap in a cordon sanitaire along the northern border of Syria, useful from the U.S. point of view in reducing the ability of radicals from abroad, including from the West, to move into the “caliphate” and go to work for ISIS.

Turkey, which has been touched by ISIS violence on its own territory, ought to value such a barrier to inhibit ISIS infiltration in the other direction. But Kurdish forces already control most of the rest of the border region, making them the otherwise logical candidate for establishing a presence in the newly declared zone, and this means that the Turkish hang-up about Kurds comes into play.

The United States may have been more solicitous than it ought to be about such Turkish hang-ups, partly because of our own rigid reliance on lists and a “once a terrorist, always a terrorist” way of categorizing some groups and movements. The principal Syrian Kurdish armed organization, known as the YPG, is closely affiliated with the PKK, the Kurdish group that waged a long and bloody insurrection in Turkey, in addition to conducting terrorist operations in the West.

One need not excuse for a moment any of the PKK’s past political violence to realize that the PKK’s position on lists of terrorist groups ought not to be the deciding factor in what use should be made of the YPG in Syria today. An additional factor to consider is that the PKK had done much to move away from its violent path, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to his credit, had done much to get a peace process with the Kurds underway. But more recently Erdogan, to his discredit, abandoned that process evidently for reasons related to his own domestic political and coalition-forming needs.

So the lines of conflict in the Syrian conflict are as complicated as ever. This does not mean that the United States cannot do some useful business there with other players whose goals and priorities are much different from our own. The United States and Britain did ally, after all, with Stalin’s USSR for the sake of defeating Nazi Germany. But we ought to recognize fully the differing goals and priorities. And unanswered questions about things such as the zone in the north need to be answered.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

7 comments for “Spreading the Syrian Chaos

  1. August 14, 2015 at 18:34

    Thoughts on Thierry Meyssan’s latest?

    “Syria; The Rhetoric And The Truth”

  2. Winston
    August 12, 2015 at 18:15

    You should read Alison Weir’s book “Against Our better Judgement”

  3. Winston
    August 12, 2015 at 18:00

    Israel treating Jihadis in hospitals! Thank you for doing the dirty work for them.



    Israel and Syria: Druze villagers kill wounded Syrian rebel being taken to Israeli hospital

  4. Zachary Smith
    August 11, 2015 at 15:34

    A story I’m trying to watch – assuming it’s true – is the Turkish invasion of northern Syria with US air support.

    Turkey Invades Syria, Goes For Aleppo

    A person hopes it’s untrue, but this is the neocon-enabling BHO we’re talking about.

  5. Mark
    August 11, 2015 at 12:41

    I don’t believe, “the lines of conflict in the Syrian conflict are as complicated as ever.”

    Israel, having corrupted US politicians with lobbying and election campaign funding, was able to have America invade Iraq in 2003 on their behalf as part of the neocon/Zionist 1990’s PNAC plans for the greater Middle East. As always the US military industrial complex and any corporate interests that stood to benefit from militarily invading a sovereign nation, seemed to be 100% on board – this all fits in with the neoconservative and liberal interventionism’s vision of global corporatocracy parading as consummate capitalists – while they are frauds using indebtedness and military might to commandeer whatever resources and wealth from around the globe they have the capacity to escape with. 9/11 was a convenient excuse to launch Israel’s war crime plans for the greater Middle East, and included in those original plans was the intent to overthrow Syria and Iran – both of which are still on the neocon/Zionist plate.

    Through all the planned and manufactured chaos and destruction from both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, along with the events in Libya, Yemen and Egypt, Israel was able to convince the Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabians, and more recently the Sunni Turks, that they had a common enemy in the Shiite Muslim’s in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran – so it was that Israel intentionally took sides in, and fueled the Sunni/Shiite rift in order to cut the supply line to Hezbollah which through runs from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – while all of this is also part of Israel’s ‘Yinon Plan’ to create chaos among Israel’s neighbors so Israel can pick up the broken pieces.

    The sycophant US politicians, putting Israel’s plans ahead of ANY and ALL other legal or moral considerations, freely obliged Israel’s illegal orchestrations without admitting the truth, that Israel and now the US have been supporting the Sunni terror groups in Syria through Turkey with the intention of fulfilling Israel’s plans for Syria by first removing Bashar Al-Assad from power.

    And to see how willingly US politicians went along with Israel’s plans for us to attack the Middle East on their behalf, read:

    “The new Pentagon papers”
    “A high-ranking military officer reveals how Defense Department extremists suppressed information and twisted the truth to drive the country to war.
    Karen Kwiatkowski”


    So no, it isn’t all that complicated – all anyone needs to do is fill in the details. Israel does whatever is in its immediate interests to achieve its long term goals – no matter how illegal and immoral – while Israel’s chief patsy and enablers, the US, leads the Western world in giving into Israel’s demands for more war crimes on top of a history of war crimes – war crimes that started before the self-declaration of Israel on ethnically cleansed Palestinian land in 1948.

    As a matter of foreign policy, all Zionism and Israel has ever done is use any means available to attack others with the intent to confiscate land – just as they continue today with the illegal settlements as described in the Geneva Conventions. In this sense, because the entire world is affected by the Mid-East conflict, the entire world is a victim of Zionism.

  6. Joe Tedesky
    August 11, 2015 at 08:39

    Read about the French Juppe Plan here….


  7. Brian
    August 11, 2015 at 07:00

    The USA is doing [useful business in Syria. It is carry out the neo-con plan in a way to conceal its support for the various mercenary armies attacking Syria.Turkey has been a conduit for arms, money and man power.Little do the Turks realize they are on the same hit list. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are creating their own civil wars. Israel must be mighty pleased.

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