Since the beginning of the Russian military campaign against ISIS and other terrorist outfits in Syria, the US has been finding it difficult to devise a counter-balancing strategy. It would not be an exaggeration to contend that the Russian campaign certainly has jeopardized the US vital strategic objectives. Neither is the US in any position to remove Assad from power—a vital objective of the US Syria strategy—nor is it in any position to fight the terrorists because they are the US only ground source available at the moment to keep the Syrian Army engaged in the conflict. Hence, the question: how is the US actually trying to off-set the Russian campaign in Syria?
As of October 28, 2015, the US is operating at least on three different yet highly interconnected fronts to defeat Russia in Syria. These fronts include: diplomatic, Islamic militancy and a proper military offensive, including both ground and air operations. These apparently looking diverse fronts have one cardinal objective in common: removal of Assad from power and consequent defeat of Russian campaign against the CIA backed terrorist organizations.
On the diplomatic front, the US has very keenly invited Iran to discuss peace proposal. The important question that we must be asking is why has the US included Iran in this round of talks? Does the US expect Iran to change its erstwhile stance towards Assad? It seems to be highly unlikely that Iran would change its stance. Iran has been a staunch ally of President Bashar Al-Assad and it also has a strategic view of the Syrian crisis and has its own interests, materialization of which depends upon the continuation of Assad’s regime.
As such, on more than one occasion recently, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who is a key point person, has come closest to affirming the centrality of Assad in any Syrian settlement. Last month, while on a visit to Beirut, he said, “Political solution is the only way to put an end to the Syrian crisis and Bashar Assad is part of that solution.”
This being Iran’s position with regard to Syria and Assad’s rule, the question of Iran’s inclusion becomes all the more important, especially given that the US Government has, on more than one occasion, reiterated its position that political settlement in Syria cannot take place with Assad in power. “Assad must go” is the idea the entire US strategy for Syria is cornerstoned on.
The fact of the matter is that the US is investing everything into coaxing Iran into its own side as a means to weaken, if not completely defeat, the Russian military offensive against the Islamists. Had this not been the case, the US would have spared no words in castigating Iran for its last week announcement to send more military reinforcements to support President Bashar Al-Assad. Hence, the question: why is the US not confronting Iran, the way it is confronting Russia, for supporting Assad? And why has the US included Iran in “peace talks” despite the fact that Iran has been supporting Assad since the very beginning of the conflict?
The underlying reason for this tactical inclusion of Iran is that the US aims at winning Iran’s heart and mind to ditch both Assad and Russia amidst their fight against ISIS and other CIA-backed terrorist organizations. By offering Iran a “role” in deciding the future of Syria, the US is actually trying to give Iran a way to increase its regional as well as global standing. Whether Iran will do so or not is a moot question; however, what is abundantly clear is that the Iranian officials will be facing strong domestic opposition with regard to joining the US-led coalition against Syria. And, given the depth of Iran-Russia relations, it seems highly unlikely that Iran would fall a prey to this trap.
That the US has deliberately included Iran into these talks as a means to trap Russia and Syria becomes quite evident when we look at the other aspect of the US Syria strategy. As of October 27, 2015 there had been no significant, categorical and unambiguous official confirmation of the US policy of not only supporting the so-called “moderate” forces but also of the plan to make a ground invasion of Syria.
On October 27, the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that the US plans to step up ground invasions against the self-styled Islamic State. ‘We won`t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against IS, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground’, Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
It is already a well-known fact by now that the US has never been fighting ISIS or any other Islamic militant organization in Syria. On the other hand, it has been supporting them by all means. An unmistakable evidence of this support came when the mystery of ISIS’ “Toyota Army” was finally resolved recently.
Secondly, a stepped-up military operation against ISIS would not help the US achieve its cardinal strategic objective in Syria: removal of Assad. It appears a highly illogical strategy, as far as the US viewpoint is concerned, to bomb the most important “ally” it has on the ground against Assad’s forces. Such a strategy would amount to changing the focal point of US engagement in the region: “regime change.” Such a strategy is, therefore, only a cover to hide the US unchanged true objective: removal of Assad. It was made plainly clear by a US official, John Kirby, in daily press briefing on October 27, 2015.
In response to a reporter’s question about the continuity of Assad’s regime in Syria, Kirby re-affirmed the US position that “Assad must go” even if he happens to play a (small) role in “political transition.” If tis remains to be the U.S’ principle position towards Syria, one has to question why is the U.S. engaged in “peace talks” with Russian and Iran?
As far as Iran is concerned, the U.S., as mentioned above, seems to be trying to break Russia-Iran-Syria alliance. The U.S. must be mindful of the minimum possibility for such a development to take place. This being the case, the most important, and perhaps the only reason that is quite evident, especially given the new strategy laid out by Cater in his testimony in the senate hearing, for engaging in “talks” is that by engaging the Russia and Iran in talks and at the same time by supporting “moderate” terrorists, the U.S. seems to be aiming at considerably exhausting Russian and Iranian resources that they have invested to support Assad against the Western supported Islamist forces, including ISIS.
The US hopes that Russia and Iran will, after expending considerable financial and political capital to radically change the realities on the ground in Syria, come around to Washington’s view that Assad must go and a new government made up of the opposition must be installed. Iran and Russia will be hard-pressed, the US seems to believe, to negotiate due to the US sustained support to “moderate” terrorist organizations as well as its ground invasion of Syria—an eventuality primarily aimed at Balkanizing Syria.
As such, by playing a hypocritical game with both Iran and Russia, the US is sowing seeds for further destruction of both life and property in Syria and beyond. As Cater confirmed in his testimony, the US will be supporting “moderate” forces in Syria as well as in Iraq. If this is the US new strategy, one has to content that the US government’s mantra of “peaceful resolution” and “dialogue” is only a hypocritical cover to protect its proxy-terrorist groups and defeat Russia and Iran in their fight against them. The central idea of all this is that if the US succeeds in coaxing Iran, it will isolate Russia. But if it fails to accomplish this task, the US will keep both of them engaged in the conflict for long enough a period to exhaust them and thus eventually force them into accepting the end of Assad’s rule in Syria.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”