Trump’s Escalations of War in Syria—Sleepwalking into a Global Confrontation

By Reese Erlich | (The Progressive) | – –

Syrian President Bashar al Assad claims to have won the war and that he is merely mopping up remaining rebel groups.

With its escalation of the undeclared war in Syria, the Trump Administration risks a direct military confrontation with Russia.

On June 20, the United States shot down an Iranian drone flying near allied rebels in southeastern Syria. On June 17, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian Air Force bomber, asserting that the Syrians threatened the ground positions of Syrian Kurdish allies.

Russian officials immediately warned that Russian radar would target U.S. war planes flying in western Syria. Russia said it would shut down the Russian-U.S. hotline aimed at avoiding accidental military conflict over the skies of Syria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that warned U.S. planes would be in danger “if they take action that poses a threat to Russian aircraft.” The United States has now attacked the Syrian military and its allies seven times, including one “accidental” attack near Deir ez-Zor last September that killed sixty-two Syrian soldiers.

The air war escalation is “extremely dangerous,” Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and an expert on the Middle East, told The Progressive. “Any time you have two great-power air forces operating in the same area with different war aims, the danger of conflict is extreme. The Trump Administration seems to be sleepwalking into a global confrontation.”

Competing military forces are scrambling to take over territory abandoned by the Islamic State as it is driven out of Raqqa and other cities. The government of Bashar al Assad now controls much of western Syria and is moving to reclaim some former Islamic State areas in the east. Syrian Kurds control a strip in the north. Various other rebels dominate in northwestern and southern parts of the country.

Areas under competing military forces. The Carter Center has created an excellent interactive map showing the evolution of the conflict since 2015.

The latest U.S. military attacks—along with those of Russia, Turkey and Iran—bring Syria closer to de facto partition, Cole said.

“The United States is trying to establish a sphere of influence in Syria. The Russians are asserting [their own] sphere of influence,” he said.

The air war began in 2014 when the Obama Administration bombed Syria, claiming it was only targeting the Islamic State. The U.S. government justified the attack because of the murder of thousands of Yazidis and other minorities fleeing an Islamic State assault in Iraq. The administration argued that a 2001 act of Congress authorizing the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan somehow applied to fighting the Islamic State in Syria, although the Islamic State didn’t exist in 2001.

The U.S. later allied with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the mainly Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), seeking to use the fighting capabilities of these militias to defeat the Islamic State and establish U.S.-controlled territory.

While that alliance has helped defeat the Islamic State militarily, the United States never figured out who would rule Raqqa and other majority-Arab areas once the Islamic State fled.

Nevertheless, within weeks of taking power, the Trump Administration doubled the number of U.S. troops fighting in Syria to about 1,000. It shipped artillery and other sophisticated arms to northern Syria, and operated small bases in southeast Syria.

In 2014 the Islamic State attacked Yazidis and other minorities living in Iraq. The Obama Administration used the attack as an excuse to bomb Syria.

From 2014 to the present, U.S. air attacks have killed over 4,000 civilians in Syria and Iraq, according to Airwars, a non-profit group that tabulates open source information.

The Pentagon has not revealed the overall cost of the Syrian War. But the Tomahawk missile strike against a Syrian air field, by itself, cost an estimated $60 million.

Trump’s actions in Syria run counter to his campaign promises, said Daniel McAdams, executive director of the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity in Washington, D.C.

“On the campaign trail, he talked about getting along with Russia and not engaging in regime change,” McAdams told The Progressive. “I was hoping he would be better.”

McAdams noted that Trump “doesn’t have a philosophy, a sense of what the U.S. role should be in the world. He has a lot of bravado, and that’s an opening for advisors to say ‘don’t be a wimp.’”

Neither the United Nations nor Congress has approved the new war against the Assad government. The Trump administration claims it’s fighting in self defense.

“That’s laughable,” said McAdams. “The U.S. is occupying Syrian territory. You can’t break into someone’s house, and when they try to get you out, shoot them and say it was self defense.”

Nevertheless, the United States has stationed troops in several parts of Syria with no indication how long they will remain. And the Russians now have 49-year leases on two large military bases in northwestern Syria.

Turkey sent its troops into northern Syria with the excuse that the leading Kurdish group is a terrorist organization. Turkey has also established a military base in Syria near the Turkey-Syria border.

Unless foreign powers withdraw, Syria is in danger of being permanently partitioned along lines dictated by outside powers.

The continued presence of U.S. and other foreign troops make reaching a political settlement all the more difficult. At the moment, none of the political players seem interested in peace talks.

Assad and his allies think the Syrian government has won the war and merely needs time to mop up the remaining “terrorist” opposition. The IS, while severely weakened, will likely continue terrorist attacks on civilians. Rebel groups backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel show no signs of giving up anytime soon.

Cole said the warring factions could make progress by agreeing to a ceasefire, writing a new constitution, and holding free and fair elections.

“That could resolve things peacefully,” he said. But at the moment no side is willing to make the necessary compromises. He predicts fighting will continue for at least the next five years.

Reese Erlich writes about Syria for The Progressive and is author of

Inside Syria: the Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, foreword by Noam Chomsky, and recently updated
[click] in a paperback edition. Visit his home page; follow him on Twitter @ReeseErlich or Facebook (Reese Erlich Foreign Correspondent).

Reprinted from The Progressive with author’s permission.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

TRT World: “Trump says US ‘will take additional action’ in Syria”

5 Responses

  1. Trump needs war to keep people’s attention off of what they are not getting from him as promised. He is deluded enough to think Putin might play along.

    of course what may become a problem is the Kurds wont give up the territory they hold in Syria. Can’t blame them. With out them the real ground fighting might not have been as successful as its been.

    If Trump manages to have “light/contained” war with Russia or some other country he can achieve his goals in further reducing the American democracy. He started with his ban on 6 Muslim countries. He has a semi interim win in the Supreme court today. Another war, some more countries are excluded and then they will start increasing what they consider “patriotic”. its not the first time the U.S.A. has gone down this road, we have only to look back at WW I and the attacks on democracy at that time.

    In my opinion Trump is no different than Hitler and he and his pal Bannon and the alt right have an agenda and sometimes having a war somewhere helps them attain that agenda. its not that Trump is that smart, but Bannon is.

    A war with anyone will keep people’s attention off of the investigation into Trump and his family. works all round for the Trumps and the Republicanthugs. What they don’t expect is that war to be brought to their own ground. Trump’s ban on 6 Muslim nations is a crock. If terrorists really want in, they’ll be in and they won’t be coming from one of those 6 countries. we have only to look at ISIS and their increased fighting in the Phillipines. No ban on them….

  2. It will be interesting what excuse the coalition will use to keep bombing Syria after Assad has defeated the rebels and is free to attack IS. With IS no longer attacking Iraq the current rationale of collective self-defence will no longer apply.

  3. Quote: “Unless foreign powers withdraw, Syria is in danger of being permanently partitioned along lines dictated by outside powers.”
    There are precedents for this. In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement was made (secretly) between Great Britain and France, and was subsequently used at Versailles to partition land which became Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. I wonder — is there is a similar (secret) partition arrangement in place today?

  4. The war could be over in just a few months’ time. The US will not allow it to end. Our foreign policy establishment has decided if it can’t have absolute control, it will create absolute chaos.

Comments are closed.