Friday, November 27, 2015

Turkey, Russia, and the US in Syria

The tensions between Russia and Turkey, publicly revealed following Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet, raise a number of important questions about the aims of different states in the Syrian conflict.

It has long been known that Turkey has supported groups fighting against the Syrian government in the civil war of that country. Most of those groups are political Islamists. They idea that they are "moderate Islamists" is laughable, unless moderate describes any group left of ISIS. Many of these groups, however, are locked in their own battles with ISIS. Turkey and some of the Gulf States have invested in these groups as part of their aim of bringing down the the Iran-aligned government of Syria under Bashar al-Assad.

Russia's intervention in the Syrian conflict, coordinated with Syria, and having a tacit green light from the international community, has so far focused precisely on these types of Islamist groups. Whether for strategic or tactical reasons, the priority for the Syrians and Russians has been on fighting these various fragmented opposition groups, including what remains of the Free Syrian Army. That provides at least part of the Turkish decision to shoot down the Russian plane.

What are the policy aims of the U.S. in the Syrian conflict? It is very difficult to read White House efforts as reflecting any coherent policy, unless it is a policy of deliberate disengagement combined with tacit support for the efforts of other states.

If the policy aim is to bring down the Assad regime, the U.S. appears to be failing at the moment. One also wonders what the interest would be for the U.S. in such an outcome, given the alternatives.

If the aim is to defeat ISIS, it is hard to see how the U.S. plans to achieve that aim with the policies embraced so far.

If the aim is humanitarian, the policy has been disastrous. Measured in loss of life, injury, and destruction of civilian property in Syria, the prolonged civil war in the country, surely abetted by support (direct or indirect) of opposition groups on the part of the U.S., the outcome of American efforts (if any have been made) is entirely negative.

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