Deciphering America’s Syrian Plan

By Idries Devries The recent “Paris Attacks” are highly unfortunate not only because they claimed the lives of 130 innocent people, but also because they united the world against the Syrian Revolution. And this is not the first time ISIS, through its actions, has had this effect on this Revolution. The Syrian Revolution began back in 2011 as an offshoot of the Arab Spring. It started when in March of that year a cross-section of...
27th November 201514 min

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meets Senator John Kerry in Damascus

By Idries Devries

The recent “Paris Attacks” are highly unfortunate not only because they claimed the lives of 130 innocent people, but also because they united the world against the Syrian Revolution. And this is not the first time ISIS, through its actions, has had this effect on this Revolution.

The Syrian Revolution began back in 2011 as an offshoot of the Arab Spring. It started when in March of that year a cross-section of Syrian society came on to the street the demand fundamental changes to the political system of the country. The protestors demanded not just removal of the president, but a removal of all the pillars of power and their rebuilding according to the will of the populace.

The initial reaction of the western governments showed that they had not foreseen this event. The Al Assad family has ruled Syria with a brutal, iron fist for decades. First under Hafiz Al Assad and thereafter under his son Bashar Al Assad even the suspicion of dissent was enough for an individual to be arrested, imprisoned, tortured (inextricably connect to imprisonment in Syria) and quite possibly being killed. Therefore, the general expectation amongst policy makers in the West was that no one in Syria would dare to try and replicate what the Muslims had done in Tunisia and Egypt. For example, on the 7th of March 2011, just days before the protests in Syria erupted, Foreign Affairs magazine published an article by Michael Bröning under the title “The Sturdy House that Asad Built: Why Damascus is not Cairo”. [1] Two months later, however, on the 19th of May 2011, Bröning was forced to write another article: “Cracks in the House of Asad: Why a Supposedly Stable Regime Is Looking Fragile”. [2]

In addition to surprised America was also not pleased with the events in Syria. Behind the scenes it had been closely cooperating with the Syrian regime, namely. When Hafez Al Assad died in 2000, America pushed for his son Bashar to take over. Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, said in this regard: “I think that it is important for Dr. Bashar Assad to take on the mantle and for the transition process to be pursued”. [3] Ever since Bashar Al Assad was been visited by John Kerry and other leading members of the US Congress on numerous occasions [4] and Wikileaks revealed that according to Bashar Al Assad the US and Syria agreed on 70% of all issues discussed during these meeting. [5] Consequently, Syria was very supportive of the American War on Terror, even going so far as torturing individuals on behalf of the Americans. [6]

Unsurprisingly, therefore, America responded to the civil uprising in Syria by calling for a “political settlement”. It organized an international Action Group to gather support for this objective and after a meeting in Geneva this Action Group released a “final communique” that explained the exact meaning of this “political settlement”: “Establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that could include members of the government and opposition, and should be formed on the basis of mutual consent”, to ensure “Continuity of governmental institutions and qualified staff” including “military forces and security services”. [7] In other words, the American plan was for the head of the regime to fall, such that the other pillars of the regime, the military and the security agencies, could be preserved.

Thus, America decided it would not support the Syrian Revolutionaries and Hillary Clinton explained why this decision was made.  “If you’re a military planner or if you’re a secretary of state and you’re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, that we don’t see”, she said, the meaning of which is that America was unable to find anyone of influence among the opposition willing to work for America. [8] Aron Lund, a Syria analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace thinktank, confirmed Clinton’s assessment. “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist”, he said, and that is why the American attempts to develop a “moderate opposition” have been a complete failure – the influence of the Syrian National Council (SNC) has always been limited to the lobbies of the hotels they have been staying in [9], while most of the few Syrian fighters that were trained by America ended up rejoining the independent revolutionary groups. [10]

In this situation the arrival of ISIS in Syria has actually been very helpful to the Americans. An analysis by Janes Intel­li­gence found that for the period Novem­ber 21 2013 to Novem­ber 21 2014 around 64% of verifi­able ISIS attacks in Syria tar­geted other rebel groups and just 13% of tar­geted the Syrian regime. Similarly Al Assad’s forces left ISIS alone to a large extent. Of their 982 oper­a­tions during the same period just 6% tar­geted ISIS. [11] Effectively, therefore, the arrival of ISIS in Syria brought the Syrian Revolutionaries a second enemy and exposed them to a second front, as Al Assad continued his attacks on them from the South and West of the country while ISIS started attacking them from East. [pullquote align=”right” color=”” class=”” cite=”Janes Intelligence” link=””]An analysis by Janes Intel­li­gence found that for the period Novem­ber 21 2013 to Novem­ber 21 2014 around 64% of verifi­able ISIS attacks in Syria tar­geted other rebel groups and just 13% of tar­geted the Syrian regime.[/pullquote]

One would not expect America to make too big a deal of ISIS, therefore, since their arrival on the Syrian scene supported the American objective to keep the Syrian regime in place, i.e. prevent the Revolutionaries from defeating Al Assad. And indeed, the American attacks against ISIS in September 2014 hardly hit ISIS targets – they were just a cover to target the independent revolutionary groups. [12]

Obama recently acknowledged that America’s objective vis-à-vis ISIS has never been elimination. He said: “from the start our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq and in Syria they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systemic march by ISIL across the terrain” [13]

Despite all this, during the summer of 2015 America began to fear the downfall of the Syrian regime. In short succession the regime lost Idlib, Homs, Deraa, Aleppo and Deir Al Zor to the revolutionaries, leaving only Lattakia and Damascus under its control. But the revolutionaries were gathering to attack both these areas in a coordination. [14] America and Russia then began to formally meet to discuss the situation. The outcome of these meetings was that the Russians began to support the regime militarily. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We all want a democratic, united, secular Syria, we disagree (with America) on the details and how to get there. But we agree on a few steps that will be taken shortly”. [15]

The disagreement Lavrov hinted to was on the role for Bashar al Assad in America’s “political settlement”, but both parties soon reached a settlement in this area as well. In October 2015, after 4 years of insisting that Al Assad had to go, America suddenly declared he had to go but not necessarily immediately. In other words, America came over to the Russian position and the disagreement between America and Russia was resolved. [16] According to Israeli sources, the Russians recently also told Assad during his October 20 visit to Moscow that eventually he will have to go. [17]

[pullquote align=”left” color=”” class=”” cite=”” link=””]Therefore, when early October 2015 Russia launched military operations in Syria, this was not an attempt to undermine the American interests in the country. Since Russia acted in agreement with America, it was in support of these interests.[/pullquote] Therefore, when early October 2015 Russia launched military operations in Syria, this was not an attempt to undermine the American interests in the country. Since Russia acted in agreement with America, it was in support of these interests.

Just as America had done in September 2014, Russia only used ISIS as a justification for its military actions in Syria because it did not begin with hitting the areas of ISIS operations. Rather, it attacked the areas from where the Syrian regime was being threatened and attacked by the other revolutionary groups. [18] Lavrov explained this by saying: “We see eye to eye with the coalition on this one. We have the same approach: it’s ISIL, Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups.” [19]

At that moment, the coalition referred to by Lavrov did not yet include France. In fact, in Syria France had a history of going against the plans of the American-led coalition. For example, in 2013, when Assad used chemical weapons and killed 1,400 people in the Ghouta area near Damascus, France pushed hard for a military intervention while US president Barack Obama refused to act. More recently, when America backtracked on its original demand that al-Assad had to go, signaling that he could remain in a transitional government for a few months, France continued to stand firm demanding the removal of Al Assad. And when America and Russia were negotiating over the Al Assad issue, the French suddenly launched a criminal investigation into the Assad regime for war crimes. [20]

The French militarily operations in Syria, which began in September 2015, were also undertaken without coordination with America. [21] Consequently, France wasn’t part of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprising America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Great-Britain. Under this alliance the five mentioned countries share the information they collect about ISIS, and Syria more generally. The French had pressed the Americans and British to allow them to join the Five Eyes intelligence alliance but were refused, obviously for no cooperating with the alliance on the ground. [22]

The attacks on Paris on the evening of Friday, November the 13th, greatly helped America to deal with this situation.

America was at that moment meeting the international community in Vienna, with the aim of uniting the world behind its plans for Syria. Officially, the meeting was organized to “find a solution”, but the proceedings made clear this was not the case. America assumed leadership of all the working groups set up by Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, and defined for each the agenda. The other leading countries in the world, Russia, Great-Britain and France, were not given a leadership role and were only allowed to participate in the discussions based on the agendas prepared by America. In other words, America wanted the international community to agree with the solution it proposed, and Russia even complained about this. [23]

This lead to progress at the conference being stalled. That is, until Paris was attacked. On the 14th of November, namely, the participants in the conference suddenly reached an agreement. As the international media reported: “Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline”. [24] “The terrorist attacks in Paris galvanized the diplomats, who at previous talks had been unable to resolve the discord within their ranks. The Paris attacks ‘show that it doesn’t matter if you’re for Assad or against him’, said Lavrov, ‘ISIS is your enemy’.” [25]

The details of this American plan for Syria are as follows:

  • In 1 month, or, by the 14th of December 2015: Diplomats will reconvene to review progress
  • By the 1st of January 2016: UN will seek to convene Syrian government and opposition in formal negotiations
  • In 6 months, or, by the 14th of May 2016: Cease-fire between Syrian government and opposition groups; process for drafting new constitution
  • In 18 months, or, by the 14th of May 2017: Free elections administered by the UN held under the new constitution [26]

It was also decided that ISIS, along with the al-Qaeda affil­i­ated Nusra Front ter­ror­ist group, would be placed on a list of groups sub­ject to mil­i­tary strikes even when a cease-fire is in place. The list, man­aged by the King­dom of Jor­dan, can later be expanded to include other groups in Syria that refuse to submit to the plans of the America-led coalition. [27]

This agreement was supported even by France. Phone calls between the American Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian over the weekend following the Paris attacks had cleared the air between the two countries, as caused France to accept being led by America in Syria. America then began to share intelligence information with France, and the two countries began to coordinate military attacks in Syria. French airplanes began to attack targets in Syria selected for them by the Americans. [28]

In conclusion, therefore, the arrival of ISIS in Syria has helped prolong the rule of the Al Assad regime, it has justified America, Russian and French (and others’) military action in Syria that in reality supports the Al Assad regime, and it has united the world behind the American plan for Syria.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “The Sturdy House that Asad Built: Why Damascus is not Cairo”, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2011-03-07/sturdy-house-assad-built

[2] “Cracks in the House of Asad: Why a Supposedly Stable Regime Is Looking Fragile”, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2011-05-19/cracks-house-assad

[3] “Albright press briefing prior to departure for Al-Asad funeral”, www.usembassy-israel.org.il/publish/peace/archives/2000/june/me0612d.html

[4] “Kerry discovers Assad is no reformer”, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/kerry-discovers-assad-is-no-reformer/2011/03/29/AFFswnyG_blog.html

[5] www.enduringamerica.com/home/2010/12/1/wikileaks-document-syrias-assad-gives-the-ultimate-response.html

[6] “Syria: The Not So Long Ago Cherished US Partner in Intelligence, Rendition & Torture Operations”, www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/12/10/syria-the-not-so-long-ago-cherished-us-partner-in-intelligence-rendition-torture-operations/

[7] “Action Group for Syria: Final Communique”, www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueActionGroupforSyria.pdf

[8] “Clinton: Arming rebels could help Al-Qaeda”, www.cbsnews.com/news/clinton-arming-syrian-rebels-could-help-al-qaeda/

[9] “Syrian Opposition Groups Stop Pretending”, www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/syrian-opposition-groups-stop-pretending

[10] “Obama Administration Ends Effort to Train Syrians to Combat ISIS”, www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/world/middleeast/pentagon-program-islamic-state-syria.html?_r=0

[11] “Is ISIS a US Proxy?”, www.revolutionobserver.com/2014/12/isis-a-us-proxy.html

[12] “Syria rebels dismayed by US air attacks on non-ISIS groups”, www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/12cd016e-4328-11e4-8a43-00144feabdc0.html#slide0 See also: www.revolutionobserver.com/2014/09/operation-saving-bashar-al-assad.html

[13] “Obama on ISIS: ‘We have Contained Them’ ”, www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/11/13/obama_on_isis_we_have_contained_them.html

[14] “String of losses in Syria leaves Asad regime increasingly precarious”, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/11/syria-losses-east-assad-regime-precarious

[15] “Remarks with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov”, www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/09/247662.htm

[16] “US says Asad must go, timing down to negotiation”, www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/19/us-mideastcrisis-kerrytalks-idUSKCN0RJ0FX20150919

[17] “Putin told Assad ‘go or you’ll be made to go,’ Israeli officials say”, www.timesofisrael.com/putin-told-assad-to-go-or-be-made-to-go-israeli-officials-say/

[18] “Russians Strike Targets in Syria, but not ISIS Areas”, www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/europe/russia-airstrikes-syria.html

[19] “Russia is striking same targets in Syria as US: Lavrov”, http://news.yahoo.com/russia-not-planning-air-strikes-iraq-lavrov-160921744.html

[20] “France more active than rest of the west in tackling Syria”, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/14/france-active-policy-syria-assad-isis-paris-attacks-air-strikes

[21] “France launches its first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria”, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/27/middleeast/syria-france-isis-bombing/

[22] “France Launches Airstrikes Against Islamic State Stronghold in Syria”, www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-providing-targeting-intelligence-to-france-for-strikes-on-islamic-state-after-paris-attacks-1447618522

[23] “Russia accuses US of hijacking meetings to prepare for Syria talks, US says Moscow didn’t show”, www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/11/12/russia-accuses-us-of-hijacking-preparations-for-syria-talks

[24] “Paris attacks: Syrian transition plan reached by US, Russia in Vienna talks”, www.smh.com.au/world/paris-attacks-syrian-transition-plan-reached-by-us-russia-in-vienna-talks-20151115-gkz9qa.html#ixzz3rqvYg8Vx

[25] “Syrian Transition Plan Reached by U.S., Russia in Vienna”, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-14/syrian-transition-plan-achieved-by-u-s-allies-kerry-says

[26] “Syrian Transition Plan Reached by U.S., Russia in Vienna”, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-14/syrian-transition-plan-achieved-by-u-s-allies-kerry-says

[27] “Syrian Transition Plan Reached by U.S., Russia in Vienna”, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-14/syrian-transition-plan-achieved-by-u-s-allies-kerry-says

[28] “France Launches Airstrikes Against Islamic State Stronghold in Syria”, www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-providing-targeting-intelligence-to-france-for-strikes-on-islamic-state-after-paris-attacks-1447618522

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Is the Two-State Solution Dead?

Is the Two-State Solution Dead?

1st June 2021
11 min
Rocket Politics

Rocket Politics

23rd May 2021
6 min