Interviews
Interviews

Interview: Trump left a tripwire military presence in Syria

Michael M. Gunter, a professor of political science who has written extensively on the Kurds told Shout News in an interview that the small remaining American military presence in Syria serves as a tripwire to deter any hostile intents toward the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in control of northeastern Syria.

Highlights from the interview:

  • "The U.S. will not leave the Kurds like Nixon and Kissinger did." American forces left in Syria serve as a deterrent should Turkey, Syrian regime forces and their Iranian allies backed by Russian airpower attempt to sweep through the territory that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces control in northeastern Syria. A situation akin to the Cold War tripwire, where a small U.S. military force in Europe signaled America's commitment to an armed response to a Soviet attack.
  • A miscalculation in Turkey's high risk adventure in Syria could reverberate in President Erdoğan's presidency. While there are no serious contenders today, a Turkish military embarrassment by in Syria could create an opening and lead to President Erdoğan's removal from power.
  • "Syria's Kurds are much more noticeable today, and in a much better position than they were ten or twenty years ago, in a brighter position than they have ever been in modern times."
  • "Turkey is the power Syria's Kurds will need to get along with", despite a rhetoric that portrays Turkey "as evil" relayed by the media in the West. Historically, in the region nobody is 100% enemy with each other. Today's loss are tomorrow's wins. This long view of the conflict is largely absent in the media coverage of the war in Syria, but key to understand the conflict.

Go deeper: Syria's 2000 American troops: Strength is not in numbers

Interviews

Interview: “America is a wounded elephant geopolitically”

A German academic who wished to remain anonymous and volunteered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the Islamic State told Shout News in an interview that America does not have a functioning foreign policy and warned that it has national security consequences.

Highlights from the interview:

Foreign policy capacity. "The U.S. does not have the capacity for any sustainable foreign policy at the moment. It is trying to survive instead of doing politics. At least this is how it looks like from the outside."

Foreign policy continuity. "Certain things need to continue [from one administration to the other] and no one in the current administration has the understanding how to, there is no one able to respond to day to day politics."

What I hear is that U.S. diplomats, military personnel, those responsible for negotiations and communication between parties on the ground sit there and wait for orders and directions they don't receive.

National security consequences. "The next war is brewing right now, next conflicts are getting in motion, but no one is interested. It is an enormous scandal and not in the interest of the U.S."

"No one is stopping Russia. That we are worried about Europe's eastern border should tell you something. It used to be completely controlled by the U.S. There are similar developments all over Africa."

Taking America seriously. "You need a well functioning secure and stable U.S. administration in order to stand up to a NATO partner and regional bully like Turkey. Otherwise, look at what happened. The Turks don't take America seriously. How can a U.S. president let a foreign president insult him publicly and not respond [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened to "slap" President Trump in March 2018]. It is embarrassing."

"Commentators don't understand the implications of a weak administration and president, of not being sure if the president will still be in office in the next six months. It might be entertaining for American talk shows, but it signal that it is geopolitically weak, plowing through."

Interviews

Interview: The future of Syria is a negotiated save heaven in the north, and beware becoming Lebanon

Interview

Farouk Belal, an American citizen Syrian-Kurd in Washington, DC, has been an opponent to the regime of Bashar al Assad from the outset of the revolution, in 2011, joining early street protests demanding democratic reforms.

Mr. Belal told Shout! News in an interview that there is not going to be a lasting peace in Syria as long as President al Assad is in power and warned of Syria following the path of Lebanon, where the ending of the 1980s civil war did not include a transitional justice process and is the reason behind the absence of a stable, functioning government.

"There is no way that the world normalizes relationship with Assad. In the U.S., inside and outside Syria the revolution continues. Our main demand when we came out on the streets was asking for freedom. We did not ask for ISIS, all these killings."

Why it matters: Recent news have featured a resurgent Syrian regime moving forward with normalization--e.g. some Arab countries re-opening their embassy in Damascus--and President al Assad military's territorial gains. Yet, Mr. Belal's position demonstrates that the demands that brought him and other Syrians to the streets are still very much alive eight years after the beginning of the conflict.

Mr. Belal told Shout! News about his vision for the future of Syria.

Syria's conflict resolution should involve a series of steps aimed at bringing President al Assad to the negotiation table in order to find a political solution followed by justice and accountability for all war crimes under the umbrella of he United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.

The starting point is to bring together the three main players in Syria now. All are foreign, "it is not a Syrian war anymore," Mr. Belal said. The US, Russia and Turkey should come to the table and find a solution, at least find an alternative solution, implemented in northern Syria, from Idlib to Afrin, Jarablus to the Euphrates, in an area currently under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, President al Assad military, Turkey and Islamic militias. It should also involve eliminating the jihadist group al Qaeda.

A stable region in the north will become a safe haven for the Syrians who choose to return voluntary and a model for Syrians who have been hoping and fighting for democratic reforms for the past eight years, Mr. Belal said.

It will require the United States and Turkey putting pressure on Russia to bring President al Assad to the negotiation table.

Interviews

Interview: What's next on the latest U.S. sanctions against Syria?

Chad Brand, a government relations officer for the Syrian American Council, told me that to go into effect, legislation H.R.31 has to navigate through a slew of obstacles and crossroads, each potentially killing or slowing it down. It brought to mind Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" sailing a newspaper-made boat through the treacherous water of a gutter.

What happened: On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation H.R.31 to increase economic and financial pressure on the regime of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad. The bill must now pass Senate then goes to the White House for the president to sign into law.

Highlights:

Best case scenario: Everything goes into place and the bill is forwarded to the Senate who includes it in its agenda on Monday. It passes the Senate without any changes and returns to the House for debate and passage without the need for approval of additional amendments. Once it passes the House in late February or March, the bill then heads to the White House for the president to sign into law and it goes into effect by summer.

What to expect from H.R. 31? The bill contains "more targeted sanctions than the secondary sanctions under the Obama administration," Chad Brand said, pointing to certain sections related to the energy area, cooperation, military assistance, and propping up the Syrian regime with military aid. It goes beyond exports to Syria and into Russian military firms and individuals.

What to watch: Senator John Kennedy, R-La., announced an amendment to allow the President to use military force to protect Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The language is far from clear, however, as it provides very general authority to the President. Protection against whom? While the assumption is Turkey, what about Turkish-backed forces, the Euphrates Shield? The Assad regime? Pro-regime Iranian militias? How broad is the amendment's language?

The bottom line: The sanctions would have been more effective years back when the situation in Syria was different and the regime in a weaker position, Chad Brand said. The accountability for the committing of war crimes against Syrian civilians provisions of the bill could have had a stronger impact on family members and principals around the Syrian president in terms of defections over the concerns that these individuals might be brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in La Hague.

Nevertheless, the Syrian American Council, who advocated for H.R. 31, sees it as a necessary step.

"The sanctions and accountability language is much needed to maintain the illegitimacy of the Assad regime and take all active steps to prevent Damascus and its backers from continuing to carry out atrocities against the Syrian people, as the U.S. undertakes a military withdrawal from Syria and the situation in Idlib continues to unfold," Chad Brand said.

Go deeper:

The effect of U.S. sanctions against Syria

Interviews

Interview: Former U.S. Amb to Syria: “The Iranians understand” that if American soldiers are killed Trump will abandon Syria

Before I left for Manbij as an independent journalist last June I talked to Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria.

The big picture: On Wednesday an Islamic State-claimed suicide attack killed four Americans, including two soldiers, on patrol in Manbij, Syria.

Highlights:

  • "[President] Trump has been consistent about what he says about Syria. He does not want to keep American forces in Syria, he does not want to get too involved in it."
  • "If there is an incident where ten or fifteen American soldiers are killed, it becomes a political issue in the U.S., and Trump will abandon Syria. The Iranians understand that."
  • "We don't know who is responsible" for the death of Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar. Mr Dunbar, who was killed in an IED attack March 30, 2018, was the last U.S. soldier to die in Syria prior to Wednesday's attack. Also in Manbij.

Go deeper:

What will the President do?

Two U.S. troops killed in Syria attack claimed by Islamic State