However, in reality, it is not a shift in priorities, it is recognition that US ambitions in the Middle East have been thoroughly disrupted by Syrian, Russian, and Iranian resolve.
The US must now resort to pursuing secondary courses of action – no less malicious in intent or ultimate outcome than its original plan which has left a region at war since 2011, killed tens of thousands, and displace or otherwise disrupted the lives of millions more.
A Reuters report titled, “U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on ‘getting Assad out': Haley,” would claim:
The United States’ diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration’s initial and public stance on Assad’s fate.
The view of the Trump administration is also at odds with European powers, who insist Assad must step down. The shift drew a strong rebuke from at least two Republican senators.
And while some have taken this recent announcement as “proof” that the White House has made good on its promise to withdraw from American adventurism abroad, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley would go on to claim:
Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No. What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria.
That “change in Syria,” however is verbatim the partitioning of the nation that began under the previous administration of former US President Barack Obama. It is essentially the secondary objective laid out by corporate-financier funded US policymakers as early as 2012 when initial attempts at lightning-fast regime change failed and the Syrian conflict transformed into a protracted, highly destructive war.
A 2012 Brookings Institution document titled, “Middle East Memo #21: Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change” (PDF), revealed US policymakers openly declaring their intentions to create “safe havens” stating (emphasis added):
An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under Annan’s leadership. This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power. This would, of course, fall short of U.S. goals for Syria and could preserve Asad in power. From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.
The document would then openly admit that – failing to overthrow the Syrian government – bleeding the nation would be an acceptable alternative, claiming (emphasis added):
The United States might still arm the opposition even knowing they will probably never have sufficient power, on their own, to dislodge the Asad network. Washington might choose to do so simply in the belief that at least providing an oppressed people with some ability to resist their oppressors is better than doing nothing at all, even if the support provided has little chance of turning defeat into victory. Alternatively, the United States might calculate that it is still worthwhile to pin down the Asad regime and bleed it, keeping a regional adversary weak, while avoiding the costs of direct intervention.
Reaffirming US commitment to this 2012 policy is US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The Guardian’s article, “Rex Tillerson says US will set up safe zones for refugees from Isis,” notes:
Rex Tillerson has said the United States would set up “interim zones of stability” to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaida in Syria and Iraq. The US secretary of state did not make clear where these zones were to be set up. He was addressing a meeting of 68 countries and organizations gathered in Washington to discuss accelerating the battle against Isis.
The notion that the US is in Syria to “fight the Islamic State” is a documented absurdity. It was the US and its allies, by their own admission, who sought the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria precisely where the Islamic State now exists. The militant proxy maintains an immense fighting capacity possible only through equally immense, multinational state sponsorship – provided by the US and Europe and laundered through their regional allies in the Persian Gulf – primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Funneling weapons, supplies, and additional fighters to the Islamic State has been for years carried out by NATO-member Turkey which maintained extensive logistical networks connecting the Islamic State’s foreign sponsors to the Syrian territory it was occupying.
Upon Russia’s entry into the conflict in late 2015, these logistical networks have been targeted by Russian air power, disrupting them and contributing directly to the Islamic State’s now waning strength across the region. US intervention now serves two purposes, to maintain the defacto partitioning of Syrian territory the Islamic State’s presence contributed to by replacing defeated Islamic State forces with US forces – and to portray the US as having “defeated” the very terrorist proxy front it created in the first place and perpetuated as long as logistically, politically, and militarily possible.
US Secretary of State Tillerson’s reaffirmation of US policy rolled out during the Obama administration is yet another illustration of “continuity of agenda,” and how special interests on Wall Street, not politicians in Washington, steer US policy at home and abroad and explains how two apparently politically diametrically opposed presidents have maintained virtually the exact same policy over the course of six years and counting.
And while the US clearly lost in its bid to outright overthrow the government of Syria, it continues pursuing an agenda that will divide and destroy the Syrian state through every means available. Continued exposure and resistance to both this agenda and the special interests ultimately driving it is essential to ensure this aspect of US ambitions in the Middle East fails as well.