Before the US Intervention in Syria
In the year 2011, two years before the US intervention in Syria, the well-renowned ‘‘Arab Spring’’ broke out and proved to prompt a successful uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. This gave the pro-democratic activists a renewed hope for Syria. It all started when a group of teenagers sprayed graffiti of pro-democracy slogans outside their school wall and they were arrested and tortured, resulting in an eruption of protests in Syria which led to security forces opening fire on the demonstrators.1
Initially, they were just anti-government protests and demanded the resignation of the autocratic ruler Bashar-Al-Assad, but it gradually mushroomed into a full-scale civil war that had drawn the regional and world powers into it. In 2015, the UN estimated that more than 250,000 were killed and 4.5 million people had fled from Syria to the neighboring states of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Moreover, 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced.2 The sectarian differences arose between the state’s Sunni majorities against the Shia Alawite sect to which the President belonged. To worsen the situation, the Jihadist group of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained prominence and the Hezbollah interfered in the area which was near Lebanon.
The Kurdish created the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and started working with the Sunni Arab militias to constantly create chaos in Syria. All of these factors had triggered unrest in the entire state. During the entire chaotic situation in Syria, Iran and Russia backed the Shiite government of Bashar Al Assad. Iran had spent billions of dollars to bolster Bashar’s regime by providing weaponry, military advisors, and oil transfers. Meanwhile, Russia launched an air campaign against the opposition of Bashar’s regime.
The Shia Islamist movement of Hezbollah also provided battlefield support. The US intervention in Syria was after a chemical attack by the Syrian government took place in 2013 which killed hundreds of people. In 2014, a US-led coalition alongside Arab allies launched air strikes against ISIS.3 The United States also backed the Kurdish, and their SDF, and aided and trained them. Moreover, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, and Jordan also supported the Sunni dominated opposition.
US’s Motives for the Intervention in Syria
On September 14, 2013, the US decided to deal with Russia by dismantling the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria, and on September 23, 2014, the US decided to fight ISIS (ISIL or Daesh) which proclaimed to have established the ‘‘Caliphate‘‘ in Syria and Iraq. Washington then decided to deploy 2000 soldiers which were mostly the Special Forces along with the Kurdish force of 50,000 to overrun ISIS.
The US also planned to make an army of 500 guerilla rebels to fight ISIS; however, this plan was abandoned. As soon as Donald Trump took office in 2017, a barrage of cruise missiles was fired at Syria’s Shayrat base which was believed to be the site from where a chemical attack could be launched. In 2018, the US along with France and UK retaliated against chemical attacks launched by the government in the rebel-held areas of Idlib and Damascus.4
It could be observed that the US wanted to combat the Russian support because of its decades-long rivalry. Moreover, the terrorist group of ISIS was another threat to the US since the US definitely did not want another 9/11 by a similar group like Al-Qaeda. In 2017, Trump told the reporters that the US had “very little to do with Syria other than killing IS”.
Since Syria has a border with Israel, the US took it as its duty to also protect Israel. Iran and Hezbollah were prevented by the US from establishing a permanent presence in Syria because it could have threatened Israel. When Obama was in office he reiterated that the US had “both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, ending the slaughter in Syria, and in ensuring that we’ve got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors.”5
The US also had conflicting signals when the topic of Assad remaining in power was brought up. In December 2018, US President Donald Trump announced through a tweet that the US troops deployed in Syria to fight the Jihadist ISIS fighters would be withdrawn as the IS had been “defeated”. In the following year, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi died during a US military operation in Syria.
The first effort for the peacemaking process was initiated by United Nations Security Council in June 2012 under the Geneva Communique of 2012. Under this, a six-points plan was proposed with the intention to end the violence and persuade the parties toward a political settlement. The communique offered to establish a transitional governing body that would have the right to exercise executive powers.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Iran and Turkey, but only the US, Russia, Turkey, and Iran were in favor of the Geneva talks.6 The second peace talk was Geneva II Conference on Syria held in January 2014. Prior to this, the UN, the US, and Russian diplomats struggled to persuade the parties to attend this meeting.
In 2013, the US Secretary of State Kerry said that the alternative was that Syria head closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos,7 because initially, the attempt failed to convene a talk. After the chemical attack, however, the UN Security Council announced an immediate conference, which, unfortunately, broke down after two rounds and the peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi blamed the Syrian Government for not being flexible enough to discuss the agenda of the opposition.
In January 2017, Russia sponsored the Astana Peace Talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. Iran and Turkey actively participated in these talks. The primary motive for the Astana negotiations was to create a zone that would be de-conflicted.8 In January 2016, another attempt at Geneva talks took place. The purpose of this talk was to discuss the Security Council-endorsed road map for peacemaking which would ultimately lead to a ceasefire ending with the electoral process.9
Security Situation in Syria
When President Trump announced the withdrawal in 2018, NATO allies, especially UK and France, were taken aback because they had deployed their troops in Syria and were dependent on the US for logistics and surveillance. Although the US assured that its troops in Iraq would tackle ISIS and not leave the area as a vacuum for them, the allies, as well as adversaries, believed that the US now no longer wanted to play a part in maintaining a balance of power in the Middle East.
Moreover, Turkey and the US had not even solved their differences so the US military presence in Turkey’s base is subject to question.10 The US claimed that ISIS had been defeated and only a few traces of them were left near the Euphrates River Valley and somewhere in the territory which was under Assad’s regime. The death of ISIS jihadist leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi the following year during the US military operation further confirmed that ISIS had been weakened. The map inserted below shows the current situation of Syria as of 2019 according to the United States,
The argument here lies that even though the US believes ISIS to have been defeated, the withdrawal of the US troops can provide the IS jihadists time to figure out how to regrow their organization back in Syria; not only will they regrow but it will help them to extend their connections further in the Middle East.
Moreover, the US has been accused of pulling back their support from the SDF of Kurds who have been backing the US during the entire unrest period in Northern Syria. Kurds will focus on survival rather than combating ISIS. They have also ceased counterterrorism operations which they started with the US against ISIS.
Even France is on alert that people who joined ISIS from the country will come back and fulfill the impending terrorist attacks.12 This considerably shows that ISIS has started working on its resurgence and leads to a striking question as to whether the US’s stay in Syria is really a success or a stalemate.
None of what the Western states hoped to achieve in Syria was accomplished. The diplomatic track that the UN started known to be the Geneva talks have nearly become irrelevant as nothing of what it proposed was implemented. Another summit in October 2018 took place in which Turkey, Germany, Russia, and France participated to bring peace to Syria.
For a better future and regional cooperation, a sustainable political settlement is needed in Syria. The major issue that arose from the Syrian crisis was the heavy influx of refugees towards the neighboring states. Their safe return is mandatory, especially keeping in view the situation of the host countries such as Lebanon or Jordan.13
However, a certain kind of stalemate, for the time being, would be appreciable to reduce the violence until there is a regional reshuffle such as a full-fledged war between Israel and Hezbollah.14
1 NEWS, BBC. 2016. “Syria: The story of the conflict.” BBC, March 11: 1-1.
2 UNHCR. 2015. UNHCR: Total number of Syrian refugees exceeds four million for first time. Main Report, UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency.
3 AlJazeera. 2019. “Timeline: US intervention in Syria’s war since 2011.” AlJazeera, October 08: 1-1.
4 Alexander Pearson, Lewis Sanders IV. 2019. DW.com. January 23. https://www.dw.com/en/syria-conflict-what-do-the-us-russia-turkey-and-iran-want/a-41211604
5 Brandenburg, Rachel. 2019. “WHAT IS THE U.S. INTEREST IN SYRIA?” TRUMAN CENTER , 1-1.
6 Besheer, Margaret. 2014. “Geneva Communique: Road Map for Syria Political Transition.” VOA news, January 25: 1-1.
7 BBC. 2014. “What is the Geneva II conference on Syria?” BBC NEWS , January 22: 1-1.
8 Duran, Burhanettin. 2019. “Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to shape Syria’s future.” SETA, September 21: 1-1.
9 Wikipedia. 2020. Syrian peace process. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_peace_process.
10 Rhode, Benjamin. 2019. “The US withdrawal from Syria.” The International Institute for Strategic Studies: Strategic Comments 1-3.
11 Clarke, Colin P. 2019. “How the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Provides a Boost to ISIS.” The RAND blog, October 21: 1-1.
12 Yahya, Maha. 2018. “Unheard Voices: What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home.” Carnegie Middle East Center, April: 1-2.
13 Witte, Melissa De, “WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR PEACE IN SYRIA?” Stanford University, April 25: 1-1.
- Alexander Pearson, Lewis Sanders IV. 2019. DW.com. January 23. https://www.dw.com/en/syria-conflict-what-do-the-us-russia-turkey-and-iran-want/a-41211604.
- BBC. 2014. “What is the Geneva II conference on Syria?” BBC NEWS , January 22: 1-1.
- Besheer, Margaret. 2014. “Geneva Communique: Road Map for Syria Political Transition.” VOA news , January 25: 1-1.
- Brandenburg, Rachel. 2019. “WHAT IS THE U.S. INTEREST IN SYRIA?” TRUMAN CENTER , 1-1.
- Clarke, Colin P. 2019. “How the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Provides a Boost to ISIS.” The RAND blog, October 21: 1-1.
- Duran, Burhanettin. 2019. “Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to shape Syria’s future.” SETA , September 21: 1-1.
- News, AlJazeera. 2019. “Timeline: US intervention in Syria’s war since 2011.” AlJazeera, October 08: 1-1.
- NEWS, BBC. 2016. “Syria: The story of the conflict.” BBC, March 11: 1-1.
- Rhode, Benjamin. 2019. “The US withdrawal from Syria.” The International Institute for Strategic Studies: Strategic Comments 1-3.
- UNHCR. 2015. UNHCR: Total number of Syrian refugees exceeds four million for first time. Main Report, UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency.
- Wikipedia. 2020. Syrian peace process. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_peace_process.
- WITTE, MELISSA DE. 2018. “WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR PEACE IN SYRIA?” Stanford University, April 25: 1-1.
- Yahya, Maha. 2018. “Unheard Voices: What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home.” Carnegie Middle East Center , April: 1-2.
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