Everybody Betraying Everybody in Syria

After some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm, writes Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

Just what have we witnessed in the recent events in Syria? It’s hard to know, given the avalanche of superficial and over-the-top headlines in most U.S. media: betrayal of the Kurds, handing Syria over to Russia, caving to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, bestowing a gift upon Iran, allowing ISIS to once again run wild, end of U.S. leadership.

Yet the bottom line of the story is that after some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm. The Syrian government is now close to re-establishing its sovereign control again over the entire country. Indeed, Syria’s sovereign control over its own country had been vigorously contested, in fact blocked, by many external interventions — mainly on the part of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few European hangers-on — all hoping to exploit the early uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and overthrow it. In favor of what was never clear. 

Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border, Aug. 3, 2012. (Voice of America News/Henry Ridgwell, Wikimedia Commons)

Much of this picture has a long history. The U.S. has been trying to covertly overthrow the Syrian regime off and on for some 50 years, periodically joined on occasion by Israel or Saudi Arabia or Iraq, or Turkey or the U.K. Most people assumed that when the Arab Spring broke out in Syria in 2011 that civil uprisings there too would lead to the early overthrow of another authoritarian regime. But it did not. This was in part due to Asad’s brutal put-down of rebel forces, in part because of the strong support he received from Russia, Iran and Hizballah, and in part because large numbers of Syrian elites feared that whoever might take Asad’s place — most likely one or another Jihadi group — would be far worse, more radical and chaotic than Asad’s strict but stable  secular domestic rule.  

Nonetheless over this entire time the U.S. has been willing to support almost any motley array of forces, including even extremist jihadi forces linked with al-Qaeda, to try to overthrow Asad. Washington has never gotten over the fact that Syria for over half a century has never bowed to U.S. or Israeli hegemony in the region, and has all along been a strong supporter of Syria’s secular —yes secular —Arab nationalism. The U.S. has therefore shown great willingness to “fight to the last Syrian” if necessary to achieve its ends.

U.S. Reaping What it Sows

As Asad’s forces gradually regained control over the country, Washington resisted those efforts — even though large numbers of Syrians want to see an end to war and destruction. In the Middle East, after all, Asad’s Syria had been by no means the worst regime alongside of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Saddam’s Iraq, Iran and other states. If Washington disliked Asad before, it is even more angered that Asad appealed to Iran, Russia and Hizballah for support. Yet ironically, if the civil war, with its massive foreign support to the rebels, had not been so prolonged, Asad might not have needed Russian or Iranian support and presence. So we reap what we sow. And it is important to remember that Asad still represents the internationally recognized, legitimate, if often nasty and harsh, government of Syria.

Raqqa Internal Security Force Training Class 005 graduates receive their initial issue of equipment after completing their training in Ayn Issa, Syria, July 31 2017. (U.S. Army/Mitchell Ryan)

As part of the anti-Asad struggle, the U.S. had sought to maintain an autonomous area for the Syrian Kurds in northern Syria along the Turkish border. The hope was that it would remain an enclave of opposition to Asad and a base of U.S. power within a divided Syria. 

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Which brings up the sad issue of the Kurds. What about Kurdish militia assistance in the struggle against ISIS? There is no doubt that the Syrian Kurds were effective in that struggle. But it is not as if the Syrian Kurds are the only forces that can fight the now motley dregs of the Islamic Caliphate (ISIS). Asad, Russia, Iraq and Iran all have every reason in the world to see ISIS expunged off the map — long after the U.S. and the Kurds are out of the picture. The Kurds are not essential to that picture. 

Under these circumstances, I believe that President Donald Trump is justified in pulling out U.S. forces from Syria as part of an ongoing process of bringing a gradual end to Washington’s endless wars. This war no longer served any real purpose except to destabilize Syria, perpetuate its brutal civil conflict and provide an excuse to keep U.S. troops on the ground and strengthen Iranian and Russian involvement in the struggle. Its refugees have helped destabilize EU politics. In terms of Trump’s “gift to Putin,” the Russians have had a dominant foothold in Syria for many decades. So, there’s not much new here.

Whose Agenda? 

It is indeed hard to keep track of the Syrian situation since there are so many players, each with its own agenda. Whose narrative you choose to identify with in this mess depends on what your agenda is in Syria.

Do you favor the Israeli agenda? Keep Syria permanently weak, divided and without allies. Do anything that will hurt Iran. Maintain Israel as the dominant Middle Eastern power.

Like Russia’s agenda? Russia is successfully working to regain its former centuries-old role in the Middle East in general — a position which briefly collapsed 20 years ago with the end of the U.S.S.R. Russia’s agenda is above all driven by its strong opposition to any further U.S. attempts at engineering regime change by coup against any and all governments globally that the U.S. does not like. Remember that U.S. intervention in Syria has not been sanctioned by international law, whereas both Russia and Iran were both formally invited to come in and assist the legally recognized Syrian government. 

President of Syria Bashar Assad made a working visit to Moscow on Oct. 20, 2015. (The Russian President)

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, shaking hands at left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Oct. 20, 2015. (The Russian President)

But there is another striking feature of Russian diplomacy: it also seeks to maintain working ties with all, repeat all, players in the Middle East including seemingly incompatible ones: good ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE, Yemen, the U.S., etc. At the same time the U.S. has refused to maintain any such comprehensive working ties across the region with forces it does not like. Hence it refuses to talk with key players like Iran, Syria and Hizballah or countenance a Russian role there. That kind of U.S. posture has above all “served Putin” who has emerged as a master of regional diplomacy and compromise. 

Turkey above all wants to keep the lid on all Kurdish political forces in the region that might facilitate Kurdish separatism inside Turkey — where the biggest Kurdish population in the Middle East lives. Hence the Turkish effort to invade the Syrian Kurdish enclave. The Kurds there ultimately saw the handwriting on the wall and opted to come to terms with the regime in Damascus. That moment had to come.

How do we sum up Washington’s agenda? Mixed. First, it supports almost anything Israel wants in the region. Second, it supports almost anything that will weaken and destabilize Iran, and hence anything that will weaken and destabilize Asad’s Syria. Then the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia in almost all its adventurist policies across the region and keep Yemen in bloody turmoil. The U.S. also seeks to keep ISIS at bay — but so do Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Then Washington seeks by almost every means to weaken Russia and Iran’s position in the region. It also hopes to keep Turkey “loyal” to U.S. goals in the region — a vain hope. Finally, it seeks to maintain U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf under the pretext of protecting the free flow of oil. Of course, all Gulf producers want to sell their oil. And Asian consumers have a far higher stake in keeping the oil flowing — India, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and others. So protecting those Asian shipping lanes (which has not really been necessary anyway) is most appropriately handled by them.

Russian and U.S. representatives meet to discuss the situation in Syria, Sept. 29, 2015.
(Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

As for Iran, it is determined to maintain allies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to the extent that it can. These allies are mainly important in a defensive operation against a concerted Israeli-Saudi-American drive to weaken Iran and all Shi’a across the region. Iran is only strong in its Shi’a identity to the extent that it is attacked for being Shi’a. So, Iran will seek to protect Shi’a populations in the region from oppression and discrimination from Sunni regimes, especially Saudi Arabia. Iran has no brief for the autonomy of any of the Kurds in the region lest it stir up Iran’s own very significant Kurdish population.

Iraq so far is a bit player, but it will gain importance with every passing year as it struggles to reestablish a viable Iraqi state after the country was decimated by the U.S. -led long war in Iraq. 

The Kurds

What about the Kurds themselves, a highly complex and diverse force in the region? The Kurds are not united and may never attain unity. Kurds, after all, have been socialized within four different countries (Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria) where they speak three quite different languages (Turkish, Arabic and Persian). Among themselves they speak fairly distinct dialects of Kurdish in different regions. Kurds have always dreamed of independence for over 100 years (one of the biggest ethnic groups in the world without an independent state)  but have been constantly thwarted by regional and international powers and have never been able to settle upon a common strategy. They have consistently been tactically exploited and utilized by outside powers for over a century (U.K. U.S., France, Israel, Iran, Turkey and Syria) when they have periodically served the geopolitical purposes of those states. They have been routinely promised support for greater Kurdish autonomy, and then, when they outlive their usefulness, they have been routinely thrown to the winds. The U.S. is only the latest state to “betray” the Kurds, by abandoning them this time — and the U.S. did the same many decades ago under Henry Kissinger who joined the Shah in using them against Saddam Hussein and then discarded them to their fate. 

The Syrian Kurds had hoped that the U.S. war party in Washington would embrace their cause indefinitely. They were certainly disappointed that that has not happened, but cannot have been surprised that the U.S. would eventually decide to abandon them when the Turks, Russians and Syrians all decided to put an end to their autonomous enclave in the name of a unified Syrian state.

Ultimately Kurdish-Turkish rapprochement within Turkey is far from an impossible task, but it will take some time. There is a groundwork from the past to be built upon. And once relations with Turkey’s own Kurds inside Turkey have been regularized, Turkey will likely be far more relaxed about the Syrian Kurds, who in any case will need to settle on an arrangement for some kind of modest local status in Syria. Turkey after all came to accept an autonomous Kurdish zone in Iraq and has deep economic relations with it.

The most vociferous voices in Washington for sticking by the Kurds in Syria come from several sources. First, from those who reflexively oppose any policy of Trump under any circumstances anywhere. Second, those interventionists who seek to maintain U.S. armed presence in the region at almost all costs — and the untiring U.S. global task in their eyes is never finished. Third, there are many who want to keep Israel strategically happy and empowered. 

The interventionist crowd in Washington wants the U.S. in Syria indefinitely as proof of our “credibility” to fight everybody’s war, and maintain American “leadership” — read hegemony — in the region. Sadly, the prolonged war agenda would not seem to do anybody in the region any good, including the U.S. 

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim world; his first novel is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan;” his second novel is “BEAR—a novel of eco-violence in the Canadian Northwest” (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com.

This article is from grahamefuller.com.

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39 comments for “Everybody Betraying Everybody in Syria

  1. Rebby Botch
    October 20, 2019 at 15:28

    I wish our time was referred to as ‘Short sightedness’ for a simple reason; the old lessons of the past cannot be overlooked with the minds of gobbles nor could mere men forge inter-relations with the conviction of self indulgence.

    When the West led by this United States started emphasizing ad nauseam about their uniqueness above all else in history (as if blaphemy was a mere term to be treaded on), and had received admiration amongst even those perceived eternal foes for their proclaimed winners of history entitled to right all choices by will, couldn’t our founding documents and the numerous history conspiracies have recalled them on those foolery that was cautioned on?

    Still, it is a different thing to establish a people through dialogue, negotiations and agreement to the satisfaction of all parties involved than to choose the admonition of fierce reprisal. Besides, force does not please the lust of it contender.

    On and on we keep failing to notice cooperation and togetherness than we could simply see side choosing and division as it is our way of diplomacy and quit recently indulging in mercenaries to earn our objective. Till we are restful to accept reality and not override our failings, then and only then will we see and understand clearly what transpires around the globe.

  2. Eddie S
    October 20, 2019 at 12:35

    Excellent article with about the most objective info on the subject that I’ve personally read. Also supported by many excellent comments.

  3. Dale Rose
    October 19, 2019 at 09:07

    Thank you for your observations. But could you please address more clearly the situation of the Kurds? You seem dismissive of people who are concerned about the fate of this complex and in many instances admirable society — “The most vociferous voices in Washington for sticking by the Kurds in Syria come from several sources. First, from those who reflexively oppose any policy of Trump under any circumstances anywhere. Second, those interventionists who seek to maintain U.S. armed presence in the region at almost all costs — and the untiring U.S. global task in their eyes is never finished. Third, there are many who want to keep Israel strategically happy and empowered” — but I assure you that many of us have been aware of and concerned about their situation for many decades for reasons other than those which you identify.

    You appropriately raise the question, “what about the Kurds?” Your answer is a Mulvaneyesque construct centered on what reads like a very cynical pragmatism: “Ultimately Kurdish-Turkish rapprochement within Turkey is far from an impossible task, but it will take some time. There is a groundwork from the past to be built upon. And once relations with Turkey’s own Kurds inside Turkey have been regularized, Turkey will likely be far more relaxed about the Syrian Kurds, who in any case will need to settle on an arrangement for some kind of modest local status in Syria. Turkey after all came to accept an autonomous Kurdish zone in Iraq and has deep economic relations with it.” In other words, apparently, the Kurds need to get over it.

    Have I read you incorrectly?

  4. Grady
    October 18, 2019 at 10:10

    Having spoken to Syrians directly, from Aleppo, Assad is ok. He’s not great, wow, but overall well liked by most. Displaced from Aleppo, they got to France then the USA leaving a nice life as dentists in shambles due to USA sponsored al Nusra, isis, et al. The larger point not given closer inspection is the “shitty little apartheid state” and its control over US foreign policy, using US blood and treasure to fulfill its requirement to destabilize any sovereign nation capable of resisting zionist hegemony. Just as in 1. Iraq, then the rest, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, culminating in Iran. Russia is in this orbit as well. Russia supports Iran and Syria. Iran and Syria support Hezbollah and Palestine. Cut off the head of the snake- Russia (an ally not an enemy and never hacked the dnc). All on the US taxpayers dime. USA is required to fight zionist wars as all 3 branches of government are owned, that is the USA is illegally entrenched in Syria, unlike Russia and Iran.

    • Steve C
      October 20, 2019 at 12:58

      Just look at all those putin-puppets in that picture! Umm, never mind, those are the “good guys”…

      Doctors take the Hippocratic oath, politicians take the Hypocritical oath

  5. October 18, 2019 at 09:33

    Excellent comment

  6. October 18, 2019 at 08:48

    Putting aside a few, am continuously expressed by the quality of the responses to article. Something of particular note is the numerous descriptions of Assad and his government. It is amazing, when you think about it, how Assad’s support among the Syrian people has been literally hidden from the general public. In politics, mentioning Assad as other than a brutal dictators is suicide. Tulsi Gabbard is finding that out. She had the courage to actually talk to him. In speaking the truth, she found out just how indoctrinated our institutions and the public were. Still, she will be remembered as a courageous and truly patriotic candidate for the presidency of the United States.

    • b.grand
      October 20, 2019 at 02:10

      Heman, I see you wrote this before HRC boosted Tulsi’s national profile 1000X. You’re premature in contemplating memories!

  7. October 18, 2019 at 07:45

    From the Introduction to the American edition of Dollars For Terror, by Richard Lebévière, Algora 2000:

    “The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army,” explains a former CIA analyst. “The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.” In a certain sense, the Cold War is still going on. For years Graham Fuller, former Deputy Director of the National Council on Intelligence at the CIA, has been talking up the “modernizing virtues” of the Islamists, insisting on their anti-Statist concept of the economy. Listening to him, you would almost take the Taleban and their Wahhabi allies for liberals. “Islam, in theory at least, is firmly anchored in the traditions of free trade and private enterprise,” wrote Fuller. “The prophet was a trader, as was his first wife. Islam does not glorify the State’s role in the economy.”

    This edifying statement, obligingly broadcast by the official newspaper of a certain stratum of the French intelligentsia* partially explains the American government’s laxity in Central Asia. Parallel to the astonishing ideological convergence between the Parisian ex-Leftists and certain former CIA analysts, there is a perceptible propagation of Sunni lslamism (in varying degrees) from Chechnya to Chinese Xinjiang, and it affects all the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.”

    * [Le Monde Diplomatique]

    • AnneR
      October 18, 2019 at 14:29

      John S. Carpenter – I do not doubt that there are parallels, indeed friendly working relations between some (ex-leftist/neo-liberal) layers of the French intelligentsia and the CIA. Nor that for both (as for the Brits) the exploitation of certain groups of Sunni Muslims (particularly though surely not exclusively the Salafi/Wahhabi sects) to the FUSUKIS ends (not necessarily, surely doubtfully, truly congruent?). This whole Syrian destablization effort, from 2012 onward, is one big, destructive, devastating and inhumane (but normal for FUSUKIS) and illegal atrocity.

      However, the French are and were not known for their niceness, their humanity, kindness toward their Muslim Algerian (or Moroccan for that matter) colonized – either within Algeria or France. Like the rest of western Europeans and their relatives across the Atlantic (and closer to the South Pole) they are fundamentally Orientalist, Paleskin Supremacist, presuming (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever) that by virtue of their pallid skins and their late arrival at civilization (or their perception of their societal structures), they – not Arabs, Persians et al (brownish to varying degrees) no matter that the MENA civilizations existed thousands of years before the western paleskins left the caves, woad and animal skins behind – are the kings of the planet.

      And Fuller – like so many in the west (Orientalism) – cannot seem to recognize that other cultures really are different, produce really different ways of looking at, seeing, being in the world, their world. The Fullers of the west seem only capable of interpreting what, say, Syrians, Iranians, Lebanese, Libyans (not to mention the Chinese) do through the filter of their own very western perspective, prism.

  8. October 18, 2019 at 03:41

    A very enjoyable read. Thank you.

  9. EuGene Miller
    October 17, 2019 at 22:13

    Can anyone explain how the American national security has benefited from the U.S. covert war in Syria?
    Who is responsible for U.S. foreign policy in the Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran, etc.
    It isn’t the U.S. Congress which appears to be far less informed than the educated public.

    Michael J. Glennon is Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
    His 2015 book “National Security and Double Government” asserts that the direction of foreign policy has shifted from
    Madisonian institutions (the president and Congress) to several hundred concealed managers of the military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies who operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.

    Readers of Consortium News would enjoy this brief but thoroughly footnoted book.

    The institutions that define U.S. foreign policy (including the Dept of State) are due for a comprehensive reform.
    The Democratic presidential candidates must address the need for reform.

    As always, Consortium News is a reliable source for credible information.

  10. Nathan Mulcahy
    October 17, 2019 at 22:12

    “Under these circumstances, I believe that President Donald Trump is justified in pulling out U.S. forces from Syria as part of an ongoing process of bringing a gradual end to Washington’s endless wars” says the author.

    Am I the only one who is surprised that the big elephant in the room is always ignored? And that elephant is that US soldiers’ presence in Syria is illegal – both from the perspective of domestic as well as international law. Therefore, the withdrawal of US forces is justified not merely “under these circumstances” as the author puts it, but because they are illegal occupying forces.

  11. bardamu
    October 17, 2019 at 18:18

    Good to hear a voice of reason on this, with so many falling further into propaganda and deceit.

    Without arguing at all that Assad is not an oppressor, let us not omit that the United States, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia certainly are oppressors, within Syria and elsewhere.

    Insofar as the United States continues to govern other countries by sanctions, black operations, and the terrorist violence that goes by “regime change,” its record as a purported center of human rights has to be judged in the context of such operations. The citizens of countries whose regimes it changes are not better represented than were chattel slaves in the Antebellum South. When they are regarded, somewhat arbitrarily, as military opponents, they are treated even worse.

    The tyranny of someone like Assad or Rodrigo Duterte (in the Philippines) is to a great extent a function of the necessity of fighting the thousand-headed hydra of CIA and other Western infiltration, manipulation, and governance. The actions of such agencies become a self-fulfilling prophesy, within a limited stage, of the “realpolitik” Hobbesian nonsense that mostly arms their philosophies: they make the dictatorships, nominal or otherwise, against which they fight–nominally, usually, and usually not otherwise.

    At some point during a history of hostilities, the United States and a coterie of Middle Eastern countries with no interest in the fact that Assad was indeed a democratically elected leader decide to fund ISIS and ISIL. To call the funded groups “rebels” is a significant category error. They also include mercenaries, bit players from organized crime, and vicious flotsam created by decades of cynical violence and sanction throughout the region. Among these people, fifteen billion $US from the CIA, greater than that through the Sauds, and who knows what all else are applied to bring forward the worst, the most violent and the least reasonable, elements–the better to kill children and rape women and create the best possible photo ops to cover massive US attacks.

    The money is a carrot for fools who find nothing better to do with their bodies. The agencies create various competing versions of news events, shooting back and forth between US operatives, US and allied operatives, and eventually Russian operatives.

    This brings two purveyors of nuclear Armageddon firing at each other across the same fields. It brings their aircraft and missiles side-by-side over the same grounds, surely inviting Strangelove types to compare the possibilities of a nuclear war that they fancy that they have the mastery to limit while they double-check whatever may be their personal version of “precious bodily fluids.”

    Arguing that the US should stay behind to help the Kurds is like arguing that a serial killer owes a turn at the babysitting cooperative.

    • October 18, 2019 at 08:14

      Another excellent comment.

      Stephen Kinzer writes in his great book about the Dulles brothers, (emphasis mine)

      “One of Castro’s closest comrades, the Argentine-born guerrilla Che Guevara, had been in Guatemala in 1954 and witnessed the coup against Arbenz. Later he told Castro why it succeeded. HE SAID ARBENZ HAD FOOLISHLY TOLERATED AN OPEN SOCIETY, WHICH THE CIA PENETRATED AND SUBVERTED, AND ALSO PRESERVED THE EXISTING ARMY, WHICH THE CIA TURNED INTO ITS INSTRUMENT. Castro agreed that a revolutionary regime in Cuba must avoid those mistakes. Upon taking power, he cracked down on dissent and purged the army. Many Cubans supported his regime and were ready to defend it. All of this made the prospect of deposing him daunting indeed.

      “Yet most of the CIA’s “best men” emerged from backgrounds where all things were possible, nothing ever went seriously wrong, and catastrophic reversals of fortune happened only to others. World leaders had fallen to their power. They never believed that deposing Castro would be easy, but they relished the challenge. This was why they had joined the CIA.”

      And may I say, Che was right. 638 attempts to kill Castro all failed, because he had closed and locked the door.

  12. October 17, 2019 at 15:43

    Yes, indeed, ”pre-conflict norm” is Americanese for peace.
    Also, “U.S. intervention in Syria has not been sanctioned by international law”, is Amerericanese for illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign country.
    In the meantime, while the neocons and neoliberals hold hands and chant for war, the Kurds have given up their goal for an ethnically-cleansed area of Syria for their very own, the Russians and Syrians are maintaining a no-fly zone, and the Americans have just announced that they have dropped sanctions on Turkey in return for a ceasefire
    We will hear intensifying screams of outrage from the bipartisan war machine that runs this country, but normal people should be quite pleased with the last week’s events.

  13. October 17, 2019 at 14:43

    I really appreciate all of the good summary and understanding included in this writing. Like a couple of other commenters, however; I have to take exception to the, ” “if often nasty and harsh, government of Syria.”. From my information, when the conflict broke out in 2011, Assad had 60% support. According to NATO data published (and then retracted) in 2013, they claimed he had 70% support. But the election of 2014, he had 88% support, and since then, sits at over 90% support. There were independent monitors in 2014 that reported their on-the-round findings to the UN as well.

    Bashar Al Assad was the younger of two brothers who had no plans to go into politics after their father. His older brother was killed in a car accident, and so Dr Bashar Assad, opthamologist, with his British wife Asma, went the different way on that basis. In some ways, he reminds me of the character of Robert the Bruce from Braveheart. He didn’t want to do it, but was loyal to Syria, which runs very strong in that country.

    In 2002, Bashar went to an old playbook and brutally put down protestors then. Much of the problem with the power structure in Syria has been the wealthy Alawites, and not simply Assad. Since the conflict began, they have had to make concessions with the Syrian people calling for reforms. Those reforms have been very successful. Universal health care and education, for example, are now better in Syria than in the US. The last presidential election in Syria also appears to be more legitimate than what we saw in the US in 2016, particularly in the democratic primaries which produced a raft of law suits.

    Syria has been a secular state in a region more commonly populated by corrupt Sunni Monarchies. In 2009, 17 million tourists enjoyed vacationing there without incident. I appreciate Graham pointing out that Syria is a secular state (twice) – that’s an important point, and so was Saddam’s Iraq. Also, Libya’s Gaddafi. I’m seeing a pattern, here. Either run a non-secular state, or deal with the foreign interests who want it a different way.

    US involvement in Syria reminds me of US involvement in Vietnam 50 years ago. In either case, the people just want the US out, and to have their own country. We have had a number good emissaries visit and audit the country, only to report that they want Assad.

    • October 18, 2019 at 08:02

      Excellent comment

    • Eddie S
      October 20, 2019 at 12:27

      Thanks for the good comment.

  14. Hide Behind
    October 17, 2019 at 13:29

    What happens on the ground in Syria belongs not to Syrians, Assad and blatantly corrupt government political, financials, over tribals is no F’n Saint by any means, but looking at the governments involved in that conflict none can lay claim to any sainthood either.
    What is the purpose of politics and those who participate in it but the ability to destroy your political opponents, and to gain more power for oneself.
    Allegiances form for each agenda but when once attained they fall apart as each tries to destroy old partners portions of gain.
    All the external workings of outside nations political systems run on corruption, passing alliances while all the real power players build and then destroy lesser participants.
    Diplomacy is learning how to smile while stabbing others in the back; it is warfare done not while in military uniform but in thousands of dollars suits and gowns while all dining at one luxurious table.
    It is a game best played by those who have no moral compunction towards justice, patriotism or recognition of Humanitarianism; it is the realm where the psychopaths
    and sociopaths are in the halls of power, and they hire less able but of same minds to do the dirty deeds.

  15. October 17, 2019 at 12:28

    “The interventionist crowd in Washington wants the U.S. in Syria indefinitely as proof of our “credibility” to fight everybody’s war, and maintain American “leadership” — read hegemony — in the region. ”

    The “interventionist crowd in Washington” don’t really give a damn about credibility or leadership. They are agents of the Deep State for whom Syria, and the whole endless war thing, is the cash cow that provides their exorbitant wealth and allows them to maintain their hegemony of power over the USA and the world.

  16. Raymond Comeau
    October 17, 2019 at 12:12

    BINGO! Drew you have hit the nail squarely on its head!

  17. robert e williamson jr
    October 17, 2019 at 11:32

    One very troubling sentence seventh paragraph from end, second sentence, ” The U.S. also seeks to keep ISIS a bay — but so do Syria, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

    Why is this statement so troubling, because if it is a true assessment of the facts, why has the U.S. allowed ISIS get off the hook time and again. Mr. Fullers statements here seem to ignore that with each passing day the U.S. loses credibility faster than the ice caps are melting.

    The intelligence community has been scrambling it seems to me ever since they figured out Trump might win the election. I in fact think they panicked and their knee jerk reaction to that realization knocked them off their game. Sure as the sun came up this morning things are serious amiss at the highest levels of the American government and they have been since before the election 2016.

    If we are to believe anything the press reports the obvious seems to be that the King of Orange surprised the Intell community again with his green lighting the Turks invasion of Syria. No one seemed to remind him of the 30k ISIS members held at refugee centers and in prisons in Syria. No one, where was the royal family when he needed them. Oh, that’s right they were dong what, meeting with the Israelis?

    That the glaring conflict between what the President does and what U.S. foreign policy as dictated by the Intell community seems to be calling for has not only spelled serious trouble for the U.S. but for countries world wide.

    Meantime I have even money that says many of the well rested enhanced ISIS fighters now on the loose are headed back to Iraq. Likely traveling in left over U.S. vehicles in Syria.

    Could it be that reality is being mixed with fiction in the post-truth era? I simply see very little making much sense here except that the American institution of the president is completely useless to Americans a this point in time and the intelligence community especially those at the highest levels in these institutions are proving to leave much to be desired with respect to influencing U.S. foreign policy. This happens when on looses so much credibility. The result of the King of Orange being crowned.

  18. Vera Gottlieb
    October 17, 2019 at 10:58

    All that has happened ever since the US attacked/invaded Iraq in 2003…Leaving behind a mess but not cleaning it up.

  19. jake
    October 17, 2019 at 10:36

    thanks for the history lesson and an introduction to thoughtful discourse on the ME and all that includes.

  20. October 17, 2019 at 09:49

    Very good article, in my mind. Couple of things stick out. Without saying it, Mister Fuller seems to suggest that Assad is head of his nation because of his brutality. I have no doubt the regime can be brutal in the face of a brutal enemy which may assume different faces but are Islamic extremists. But Assad appears to have the support of the Syrian people evidenced by the results of the 2014 election and the Syrian’s willingness to fight and stay cohesive in the process.

    As to the Kurds, cynical people have used the Kurds to attack their enemies with the promise of giving them some piece of territory they might call Kurdistan or at least some greater autonomy within those countries. Bad idea for the countries and bad idea for the Kurds and the sooner they realize those who encourage them in this direction are not their friends, the better off they and their neighbors will be.

    • rosemerry
      October 17, 2019 at 15:12

      I agree about Assad, who is, as stated, the legitimate leader of Syria, not more tyrannical than others and yet has to be in charge of a “regime”.

      The US presence has only exacerbated the situation in Syria, as it has in mot of the US “humanitarian interventions”.

    • Dao Gen
      October 17, 2019 at 18:20

      Yes. Syria promulgated a new, more democratic constitution in 2012, and in 2014 there were democratric elections for both president and parliament. Bashar Assad was reelected against two opponents in a democratic election observed by observers from around the world, including five observers from the US. The next elections will be in 2021. The “brutal gasser Assad” image was created by the CIA in collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda and with opponents of Assad who mostly live in Europe, but international polls show Assad has the support of 55-60% of Syrians. You can see this from the fact that so many Syrians enlist in the Syrian Army to help save their country. The desertion rate is also comparatively low. Assad’s support from minority religious groups, including Christians, is surely around 90%, and the biggest reason for hatred of Assad inside Syria is said to be the fact that he is a member of the minority Alawi Shiite sect, whose members many Sunnis dislike and Wahhabists from Saudi Arabia say they want to literally eliminate. The demonization of a country’s leader is the standard technique the CIA uses to initiate regime change efforts, and in Syria it completely ignores the major role played by the Ba’ath Socialist Party, the real center of power. This party has created Syria’s modern secular state in which women play perhaps a greater role than anywhere else in the Muslim Middle East. One of Syria’s two VPs is a woman. Syria also has things Bernie Sanders can only dream of, such as national health insurance and free higher education for all. Probably the number one reason the US security state wants to force regime change in Syria is because it is a mildly socialist country with a strong dedication to national independence and with traditional ties to the USSR and now to Russia. Like Libya until 2011, Syria refuses to become a compliant vassal state in the US financial and military empire. Above all, that is surely why Obama and Hillary thought they had to break this stubbornly independent country, which has indeed remained more independent from US power than most nations in Europe. The US, like Turkey, is in Syria illegally, and Trump is right to partially withdraw from Syria. His only fault is not completing a full withdrawal. Since a majority of Americans favor full withdrawal, Trump may well go all the way before the 2020 election.

    • Laura Lance
      October 18, 2019 at 08:07

      Hear, hear to what Dao Gen said. This is kind of clarity we need on the situation in Syria.

  21. October 17, 2019 at 09:46

    The letter is dated October 9 and sent after the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. In that letter, US President Donald Trump told President Erdogan: ‘Don’t try to be too big, don’t be a fool.’

  22. October 17, 2019 at 09:21

    US President Donald Trump compared Russia’s participation in the armed conflict in Syria with the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan.

  23. AnneR
    October 17, 2019 at 08:55

    Thank you, Mr Fuller, for this summation of the realities on the ground in Syria.

    Here is where I might have disagreement:

    You do make clear that the Syrian government, led by Assad, is fully legal and legitimate and internationally recognized as such, although you do not make clear that it was a democratically elected government (an internationally observed election at that – how many American or British elections are internationally observed to ensure they are truly free and fair? None that I can recall).

    However, you follow up your approbation of the legality of the (elected) Assad government with the sting: “if often nasty and harsh, government of Syria.” This probably true. You point out not as nasty or harsh as several other MENA countries governments – while avoiding listing one of the most brutish (and illegal entities), that of Occupied Palestine.

    I would question just how much nastier or harsher (or more unethical, immoral, inhumane) the Syrian government is than say that of the USA? The UK? Australia? Israel?

    Being African American (especially but not exclusively male), being a Native American – especially with a Spanish last name in the SW, being Muslim, being poor and homeless (all ethnicities) – how might one perceive the US government? As open-minded, kindly, considerate of human rights? (If I am incorrect on this, please forgive my ignorance, but I do believe that the US never signed and ratified the UN Human Rights treaty – I mean why would a corporate-capitalist meritocracy be interested in ensuring that all of its own citizens, let alone those in other parts of the world, have clean water, decent housing, equal access to good and free education and so on?) What of the USA’s incarceration rates – and so many for what are essentially petty crimes; its apparent preference for psychological torture via solitary confinement of many of its incarcerated? What of Guantanamo prison? Of all but daily Cop killings of African Americans and others they fancy using as target practice?

    In the UK – how much more brutal, aside from using the rack, thumbscrews and waterboarding, can the treatment of Julian Assange get? And that doesn’t even consider what the UK has done (and refuses to set right) to the Chagos Islanders, what in its past it has done to millions of Indians, Australian indigenous, Maoris and various African peoples. And the Palestinians.

    As for the Aussies – their (the European etc. descended population) abominable and continued treatment of the indigenous Aboriginal peoples? And their treatment of refugees and so on – imprisoned indefinitely on some islands off the Australian coast?

    And the atrocities committed daily (from 1948 onward, with stop) by the “Israelis” against the indigenous Palestinians – completely ignored by the western media – unless the story can be so twisted as to make the Israelis the victims of Palestinian “aggression.” Ethnically cleansed (still ongoing), imprisoned, tortured, shot, bombed (including using white phosphorous), houses bulldozed, olive groves and other fields of crops burnt (regularly by colonizing settlers)… 70+ years of these human rights abuses and nary even a tap on the wrist from the “humanitarian interventionist” “right two protect” west. Reveals much about what one needs to know about the underlying motivations of USUK and often FR and IS interference, destruction and destabilization of MENA countries.

    Frankly, before we – the white superior civilized lot – start viewing other peoples as inferior, as nasty and brutish – we need to start cleaning up our own houses *and* start Minding Our Own Business. Follow the terms of the Westphalian Treaty – not just as regards Europe, but all other nations, peoples.

    • mohamad fahd
      October 17, 2019 at 12:36

      Right on!
      Thanks, AnneR

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      October 17, 2019 at 22:04

      Well said – AnneR

    • b.grand
      October 20, 2019 at 02:20

      Thank you, AnneR.

      The US also has plenty of political prisoners. For one case, see the book, “The Holy Land Five,” by Miko Peled. Long jail sentences for charity to Palestinians.

  24. David G
    October 17, 2019 at 01:22

    “the pre-conflict norm”

    That’s Americanese for “peace”.

  25. Tom Kath
    October 17, 2019 at 00:08

    Excellent treatise, and very clear assessment by Graham. It raises the question of the possible legitimacy of ANY quest for autonomy, independence, and sovereignty. I get the impression that Syria is by far the oldest and most successful “multi cultural” society in the world. I would suggest that this requires relatively strict rules, but means that the benefits of belonging outweigh the restrictions to cultural expression.

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