Sputnik interviews The Saker on Syria
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Sputnik: What is behind Donald Trump’s decision to end the CIA covert program to arm the so-called “Syrian rebels”? How will it affect US positions in Syria? Will it help the Syrian Arab Army to defeat al-Qaeda and Daesh and restore the country’s sovereignty?
The Saker: I believe that the Americans have finally given up, at least temporarily, on the “good terrorists” (aka the Free Syrian Army) because they simple have run out of options. Militarily, the coalition of Syria-Iran-Russia-Hezbollah is winning, Daesh are on the ropes, as for the “good terrorists” they have (correctly) concluded that they are much better off taking the deal Russia has offered to them through the negotiations process than to be eliminated alongside the Daesh hardliners.
Sputnik: Meanwhile, the Kurdish-dominated SDF, backed by the US, continues to gain ground in northern Syria. Is it possible that the suspension of the CIA covert program is simply the way to strengthen the Pentagon’s positions in Syria? (It was earlier reported that there had been repeated clashes between the Pentagon-backed SDF and the CIA-backed Syrian militants). Does Trump’s move mean that he is seeking more support from the DoD while trying to diminish the CIA’s power?
The Saker: The Kurds are the only possible candidates for the role of “boots on the ground” for the USA. It is therefore no wonder that the Americans would try to use them in some way. That, in turn, implies that the Americans must give the Kurds something, such as a promise of some kind of more or less independent Kurdistan, to entice them to play this role. Furthermore, the Kurds are the only combat-capable force which is not part of the Syria-Iran-Russia-Hezbollah coalition and that also makes them an extremely attractive potential ally for the USA. The problem is that nobody, not Turkey, not Syria, not Iraq and not Iran, want any type of independent Kurdistan, especially not a de jure independent one. So the Kurds are only fighting in Syria as long as the big guys (Turkey, Iran, Syria) are willing to tolerate this. But if they overplay their hand they will be stopped.
Sputnik: What do you think about the Kurds’ attempts to hold a local election in Rojava? Will the Trump administration support the Kurdish aspirations for independence? Is Washington still planning to implement the so-called “Kerry’s plan B” aimed at splitting Syria up? How could this be avoided?
The Saker: I am convinced that the USA will eventually try to break up Syria. That is typical US strategy: what they cannot control they will try to break. Also, Israel, which is a key, if covert, player in all this, will want to weaken Syria as much as possible, including breaking the country up. The good news is that Russia is opposed to that plan and that Iran and Turkey are also opposed to it as a direct consequence of their opposition to the creation of any type of Kurdistan. This reality on the ground means that any US plan to create some type of Kurdistan to weaken Syria and put pressure on Turkey and Iran will end up being a pipe dream. There is a darn good reason why no Kurdistan has happened so far – nobody in the region wants it.
Sputnik: Is it possible that the US is covertly supporting the Kurds’ independence in Iraq and Syria, trying to create a brand new player in the region that could be used to exert pressure and, if needed, undermine Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey in the long run? Is Washington intended to realize the notorious plan of Ralph Peters and redraw the map of the Middle East?
The Saker: It has always been the US policy to support minorities against majorities. And while this policy is always cloaked in pious political speech about democracy, human rights, self-determination and freedom, the real motive is very primitive: majorities do not need, or depend on, the USA to prevail. Minorities do. Thus, any minority which accepts the support of the USA becomes dependent on this support for its very survival and that inevitably makes it an obedient tool in the hands of global US imperial policies. The situation with the Kurds is exactly the same. The one and only way out of this trap is for the minority to accept a “less than ideal” deal with a local majority power and to never reply on the USA for its survival. So far different Kurdish factions have had different approaches towards this dilemma and that further complicates the situation.
Sputnik: Did the US really give up its plan to oust Assad? What is behind this apparent “change of heart”?
The Saker: For the time being, it appears to be the case. As for what resulted in this change of heart – I would say the reality on the ground. I don’t think anybody, besides McCain, seriously believes that the Syrian government will be defeated, least of all by some tiny (and entirely fictional) “good terrorists”. The CIA and the Pentagon have probably concluded that they are getting nowhere with their plans to oust Assad.
Sputnik: What do you think about the possibility of the creation of the US-Russian coalition in Syria?
The Saker: It was a real possibility until Trump basically caved in to the Neocons. Now that the US Congress has essentially neutered Trump and the russophobic hysteria has reached even new heights, I don’t think that Trump can do anything of substance with Russia least he appear like some kind of “Putin agent”. What the Neocons have done is to self-lobotomize the US Executive Branch which is now completely unable to intelligently deal with any situation involving Russia. This is a crying shame as the potential for joint action on common interests was immense. But petty internal US politics have ruined it all.
Sputnik: What is your prognosis for the future of the military actions in Syria: Will the SAA manage to restore the country’s unity and to what extent? What will be the US moves if the SDF liberate Raqqa? Will Daesh stop its activities in Syria or just go underground and continue its struggle, like Al-Qaeda did in Iraq following the US invasion? What should be done to ultimately defeat Daesh?
The Saker: To use a Russian example, the situation on Syria is much more similar to the situation in Dagestan than it is to the situation in Chechna. Syria is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups who all have different affiliations, agenda and foreign sponsors. This means that it is far easier to maintain some kind of low simmering civil war going on in Syria than in a more homogeneous country. Neither Daesh nor al-Qaeda will simply disappear. What they will have to do is scale down the scope and nature of their operations. As for the Syrian government, it will have a never ending struggle in protecting and keeping safe the zones it liberated from the Takfiris. The Assad family and the Baath Party could only maintain peace, law and order by means of an iron grip on the Syrian society. Now that secular Arab nationalism has been weakened and religious extremism is on the rise, there is no possibility for Bashar al-Assad to re-create the kind of control is father had. Nor can he replace it with a religious order like what we have in Iran. Last but not least, Israel will never cease to sabotage, subvert and destabilize Syria which it sees as its most dangerous neighbor and as a key ally to Hezbollah. For all these reasons, I don’t see Syria returning to the status quo ante. What I do hope for is that with the assistance of Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah most of Syria will be liberated from the Takfiri crazies and that the normal civil society and economy will flourish again in the liberated zones. But Daesh type terrorists will probably remain in hiding in the deserts of Syria for a long time.