A New Decision to Go to War in Syria
Any persistence of an ISIS threat in Syria will be less a function of a continued Assad regime than of a continued Syrian civil war. It was the war that gave ISIS a big boost a few years ago. It is the war that continues to breed the conditions that an extremist group—whether ISIS, al-Qaeda, or some other—can exploit. The U.S. policy course that Tillerson described, which includes not only the direct U.S. military presence but also the building up of a client militia, is a prescription for continuation of the war. The secretary said what one would expect the chief U.S. diplomat to say regarding the importance of resolving the conflict, but U.S. diplomacy has been playing at most a backseat role .
The U.S. military expedition in Syria is now, according to Tillerson’s own words, aiming at three other things at least as much as anything having to do with ISIS or terrorism. First, the notion of regime change lives. Tillerson was explicit about that, saying that stability in Syria “requires post-Assad leadership” and that the United States will discourage every other nation from having any economic relationship with war-torn Syria until Assad has gone. Nowhere did the secretary explain why the end of a regime that, under Hafez as well as Bashar Assad, has been in power for 48 years should suddenly have become such a U.S. objective. Nor did he explain how, given that Assad, with the help of his Russian and Iranian supporters, has clearly shorn up his regime’s position, what Tillerson prescribes will mean anything other than prolonged instability and confrontation in Syria.
Second, as with anything the Trump administration mentions about the Middle East, there is always the bogeyman of Iran. And as usual, Iran is described in general pejoratives—the lead adjective on the subject in Tillerson’s speech was “malignant”—without addressing exactly how Iran’s position in, and relationship with, Syria threatens any U.S. interests. Nor was there any recognition of the inconsistency of justifying a U.S. military intervention that was supposed to be about opposing ISIS by talking about malignancy on the part of a regional power that itself has been opposing ISIS, in Iraq and well as Syria.
Third, whenever there is a U.S. mention of #Iran, the government of #Israel cannot be far away. And indeed, Tillerson said, “Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.” Of course, the United States and Israel have no mutual assistance security treaty. Nor did Tillerson suggest anything the United States would get out of doing Israel’s desired work in Syria. He also did not mention that Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East and that any thought of Iran trying to achieve “destruction” of Israel, from Syria or anywhere else, is something between folly and fantasy.