Trump’s Dramatic Turnaround on Syria: Principles vs Pragmatism

by Nauman Sadiq for Veterans Today

A few weeks ago, couple of caricatures went viral on the social media. In one of those caricatures, Donald Trump was depicted as a child sitting on a chair and Putin was shown whispering something into Trump’s ears from behind. And in the other, Steve Bannon was shown mumbling something into Trump’s ears with a sly smile on his face.

The meaning conveyed by those cunningly crafted caricatures was to show that Trump lacks the intelligence to think for himself and that he is being dictated by Putin and Bannon. Those caricatures must have affronted the vanity of Donald Trump to an extent that after that, he has become cold towards Putin and has recently removed Bannon from the National Security Council.

Donald Trump is an overgrown child whose vocabulary does not extends beyond a few words like “amazing” and “tremendous,” and whose frequent spelling mistakes on his Twitter timeline like “unpresidented” have made him a laughing stock for journalists and academics alike. It is very easy for the neuroscientists on the payroll of corporate media to manipulate the minds of such puerile politicians and to lead them by the nose to toe the line of political establishments, particularly on foreign policy matters.

It is not a coincidence that only a day before an international conference on Syria was scheduled to be held in Brussels, a chemical weapons’ attack took place in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate which was blamed on the Syrian government by the mainstream media.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the Obama Administration’s proverbial “Red Line” has been crossed in Syria only a day after a breaking news made the headlines that the editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, had revealed in his recent editorial [1] that Tulsi Gabbard, the United States Representative for Hawaii whose trip to Syria in January and meeting with Bashar al-Assad was widely reported in media, had conveyed President Trump’s offer of cooperation to Assad during the meeting.

Apart from Tulsi Gabbard, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have also stated on the record [2] recently that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first priority of the Trump Administration and that the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.

In a dramatic turn of events after the chemical weapons’ attack, however, the US has launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate from where the Syrian plane apparently flew to the chemical weapons’ strike site in Khan Sheikhoun. And Secretary Tillerson said the US has a “very high level of confidence” that the Syrian regime has carried out at least three attacks in recent weeks, including on Tuesday, using Sarin and nerve gas.

Unlike dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appeared that Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like Fox News, but that he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.

Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. And he is also mindful of the fact that militants are being funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in the Turkey-Syria border regions to the north of Syria and the Jordan-Syria border regions to the south of Syria.

Moreover, isn’t it ironic that when the “visibly moved and tearful” Donald Trump appeared on television to make a historic statement after the chemical weapons’ attack that “the attack has crossed a lot lines for me,” he was standing next to King Abdullah of Jordan who has been instrumental in creating a carnage in Syria that has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and displaced half of Syrian population?

 According to an informative December 2013 report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with UAE’s government which takes the side of Syrian opposition against the Syrian government, it is clearly spelled out that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Thus, compared to the conventional attitude of the globalists, for an anti-status-quo administration that promised reforms and a radically different approach to foreign affairs during the election campaign, Donald Trump has let down his Alt-Right electoral base by conducting cruise missile strikes in Syria and by adopting the militarist tone and tenor of his interventionist predecessors.

As I have already mentioned that lack of understanding is not a factor here. Donald Trump is mindful of the ground realities of the Syrian theater of proxy wars. More than realization, it was required of him to take a moral stand on his principles. But expecting from a morally weak and impotent old fart to stand by his principles, who was in the habit of grabbing Miss Universe pageants by their genitals and who was fond of watching prostitutes perform “golden shower” in the presidential suites of Moscow’s five-star hotels, is a bit naïve.

The Trump Administration is fully aware that a covert war is being waged against the Shi’a-dominated regime by the latter’s regional foes. America’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is partly about ensuring Israel’s regional security and partly about doing the bidding of America’s regional, Sunni allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States.

Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003. The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World.

But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Finally, the Trump Administration found itself on the crossroads to choose between the non-interventionist ideals of its electoral base or to pursue the militarist, regime change policy of its predecessors in order to protect the interests of America’s regional, Middle Eastern allies in a power struggle for regional dominance which has spilled a lot of innocent blood and has reduced a whole country of 22 million people to rubble, and it has chosen the destructive path of political pragmatism over pacifist principles.

The choice was predetermined, however, because the Trump Administration has already held several face-to-face meetings with America’s longstanding allies, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan, Erdogan of Turkey and the heir apparent to the Saudi throne Prince Mohammad bin Salman. An hour-long phone call to Vladimir Putin and a message of reconciliation to Bashar al-Assad through Tulsi Gabbard were simply not enough to revise America’s longstanding policy in the Middle East.

Sources and links:

1- Ibrahim al-Amin’s account of Tulsi Gabbard’s meeting with Assad:

http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/275193

 2- White House Accepts ‘Political Reality’ of Assad’s Grip on Power in Syria:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/us/politics/trump-bashar-assad-syria.html?_r=0

3- Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman:

http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/syrian-rebels-get-arms-and-advice-through-secret-command-centre-in-amman

 About the author:

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petroimperialism.

Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command centre in Amman
Rebel fighters of the Yarmuk Brigade train on the outskirts of the southern Syrian city of Deraa. Mohammed Al Fares / AFP

Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command centre in Amman

Istanbul // A secret operations command centre in Jordan, staffed by western and Arab military officials, has given vital support to rebels fighting on Syria’s southern front, providing them with weapons and tactical advice on attacking regime targets.

Rebel fighters and opposition members say the command centre, based in an intelligence headquarters building in Amman, channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units – although it has stopped short of giving them much coveted anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

Officials in Amman denied the command centre exists. “We dismiss these allegations. Jordan is not a host or part of any cooperations against Syria. Jordan’s interest is to see a stable and secure Syria, one that is able to keep its problems inside its borders,” said Mohammad Al Momani, minister of media affairs.

“We will not do anything that will feed violence in Syria,” he said.

But Syrian opposition figures familiar with rebel operations in Deraa, about 75 kilometres north of Amman, said Jordan hosted the command centre and had tasked senior Jordanian intelligence officials to work with western and Arab states in helping rebels to plan missions and get munitions and fighters across the border.

The existence of a weapons bridge from Jordan to rebels inside Syria has been a poorly guarded secret since a New York Times expose in March, but few details of its workings have been revealed.

However, according to opposition figures, the command centre – known as “the operations room” – is a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.

The command centre gets advance notice from the FSA of upcoming military assaults against forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad, Syria’s president, and only hands over weapons if officials at the centre approve of the attacks.

“When we want to make an operation, we arrange for one of our men to have an informal meeting with a military liaison officer from the operations room and they meet up, in a hotel or somewhere in Amman, and talk through the plan,” said an FSA officer involved in the system.

 “If the liaison officer likes our idea, he refers it to a full meeting of the operations room and a few days later we go there and make a formal presentation of the plan,” the FSA official said.

Then, western and Arab military advisers at the command centre make adjustments to tactics and help determine when and how the operation should go ahead.

They also allocate weapons needed for the attack and, with the plan approved, set up supplies to ensure the FSA has them.

 “We run through all the numbers, what we need in terms of men and weapons, and when we’ll get it. It’s all detailed, it’s done in a very exact way,” the FSA official said.

Islamist factions outside of the FSA, including groups aligned to Al Qaeda, are not involved with the operations room and do not directly receive weapons or military advice.

Not all FSA operations in Deraa are approved by the command centre. Sometimes FSA units do not even approach it for support, preferring to carry out operations alone using whatever resources they have.

If they do not have the weapons they need, or if an attack is more complicated to plan, FSA officers will seek support from the command centre.

“We cooperate with one another, they do not control us and we don’t always do as they tell us. It’s more like they give us advice and sometimes we take it and sometimes we don’t,” said another FSA commander involved in the system.

Yet another FSA officer with knowledge of rebel operations in Deraa said units had been supplied with modern Austrian-made rifles – fitted with transparent ammunition magazines – tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition for heavy calibre machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar-firing tubes and bombs.

In the past two months, FSA units have also been receiving vehicles, equipped with heavy machine guns mounted on the rear bed, and rebel solders have been sent to Saudi Arabia for training, FSA officers said.

“There were 80 fighters sent to Saudi last month for training in military communications. In total there have been a few hundred getting training. They come back fully equipped – each with a personal weapon, a pickup lorry for every squad of five men, a heavy machine gun for each squad, plus clothing, boots and that kind of thing,” said an FSA commander.

“There was training before but it is getting better now,” he said

A western diplomat based in the Middle East said the US and European countries were not supplying munitions to rebels but did have liaison officers in regular contact with the FSA.

“Saudi and Qatari-supplied weapons are going across the border from Jordan but not going in the sort of volume that will change the balance of power on the ground.

“Short of an all-out effort involving the US supplying weapons, it will not be enough to topple Assad and it doesn’t come close to offsetting the military support Assad is getting from the Russians,” the diplomat said.

FSA units in Deraa said the international backing came with too many restrictions and was not sufficient to let them make major advances.

“In the summer there was a meeting with the operations room and all of the FSA units in Deraa and we were told very clearly what the rules are. They [the command centre] said we are not to attack major regime military installations without approval, that we are only to engage in hit-and-run operations and should not try to hold territory because the regime’s air power means it can hit us if we do,” said an FSA fighter briefed on the talks.

 FSA units also had to pledge they would not transfer weapons to militant Islamist groups, including Jabhat Al Nusra, which has a small but powerful presence on Syria’s southern front.

“The command centre has been good for us, it has helped a lot, but we’d like more commitment from them. They don’t really share intelligence information with us, they don’t give us enough weapons to do the job,” said an FSA commander.

“We all think they want to keep Assad stronger than us, they want to keep a balance – we get enough to keep going but not to win,” he said.

The Assad regime has accused Jordan of hosting rebels and helping to prepare an army for an assault on Damascus.

FSA factions in Deraa said that the majority of their supplies – sometimes as much as 80 per cent – was channelled to them via the command centre. But they also described an often complex supply chain, frequently opaque even to those involved, with intelligence agents, private donors and shadowy proxy organisations all moving munitions around.

“It gets very complicated, everyone lies to each other, everyone is trying to control everyone else,” said an FSA commander.

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