One of the most frustrating aspects of coverage of Syria is the extreme disconnect between what the standard story is, and what is actually happening. “Assad and Russia are Winning!”
Despite the fact that a long-standing Russian ally has been destroyed over an eight year period. “Assad has murdered Half a million people!” Even though 150,000 of that half million are his own soldiers, and the civilian casualties are nowhere near as one sided as they are portrayed. My usual approach to this is quietly angry, and my next and last videos on the topic of Syria and the US-Turkey alliance are no exception to that. With this week’s video, however, I chose a different approach. I like this video because it is calm, detailed, brief and to the point. Anger is important, but I think this type of video is also useful for cutting through the bullshit. What do you think?
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Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Since the beginning of Foreign troop involvement in Syria, people have been predicting a quagmire for Russian, Turkish and American troops in the country. What folks are thinking of here is what happened during the US occupation of Iraq, a brutal insurgency that takes a politically unsustainable toll on the troops of the invading country.
When Russia went in to Syria in force September 2015, Obama predicted they would soon regret it, and find themselves in a quagmire. This hasn’t really happened. Wikipedia says they have only lost 116 soldiers in 4 years. When Turkey invaded Northern Syria in 2016, and especially when they invaded Kurdish majority Afrin in the beginning of 2018, I expected a bloodbath. Didn’t happen. Wikipedia says all their efforts have only cost around 194 deaths in three years. When permanent US boots on the ground moved into Northern Syria in 2017 I again expected massive casualties. Didn’t happen. So far, accoeding to wikipedia only 8 US service people have died in Syria. The much predicted quagmire for these three countries has failed to emerge.
The answer to this mystery is the fact that all of these foreign forces are insulated from fighting by the real actors in the civil war. The Russians have the Syrian army, and Iranian troops and militias protecting them. The Turks, as we are seeing again this month, have the jihadist militias that the US and Turkey created to take down Assad to do the real fighting. The US soldiers have the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led militias that did the bulk of the fighting against the Islamic State. Up to this point all of the real combatants in the Syrian civil war have known that their foreign soldiers are delicate flowers. If too many get killed, then their air support and their endless supplies of weapons could disappear all at once. That’s why Syria hasn’t been a quagmire for Russian, Turkish and US soldiers. They are probably the safest people in Syria.
I think this may be about to change, and the quagmire for foreign troops in Syria may be about to begin. Ironically, this is because the war is winding down. If last week’s deal between Russia and Turkey holds, then the Syrian War may be essentially over. The Russians are probably the safest troops going forward. But the deal calls for a more involved role for Russian military police patrolling the so called safe zones of Northern Syria, which sounds pretty dangerous. As the Iranians and Russians jockey for position and contracts in Syrian recovery, Iranian forces will be less eager to die to protect Russians. Even Assad might get sick of the Europeans as he tries to consolidate power. The Americans were supposed to pull out of Northern Syria, but at the end of last week it emerged that Trump might be planning a very illegal and very stupid residual force to keep the Syrian government from accessing its oil. These plans are reliant on continued support from the SDF, the Kurdish led militia group that the US just betrayed at the beginning of this month. That’s crazy. If Trump’s oil field plan goes forward, we could double two years of US casualties in a month.
But the Turkish soldiers are probably the most vulnerable going forward . They don’t just hold chunks Northern Syria directly, they also have a number of easily isolated outposts for the protection of Idlib, the rebel enclave carved out by CIA and Saudi money in 2015, which is now mostly run by Al Queda. This month has been good for Turkish relations with their jihadist rebels , but that could change pretty quickly. It’s becoming clear that the main winner in last week’s peace deal is the Syrian government that the rebels hate. As that becomes clearer, the Turkish aligned militias won’t just get less likely to protect their Turkish patrons, they may actively start hunting them.
So, as peace breaks out in Syria, the long predicted quagmire for foreign soldiers may be about to start. The smart thing for Russia, Turkey and the US to do would be to declare victory and withdraw.
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