The United States appears to be on a course of permanently backing down from the following: conflict with Syrian forces in Syria, open disagreements which could lead to conflict with Russian forces in Syria, attempts to take the ‘lead’ in Syria, relations with Salafist terrorist groups in Syria.
While the US maintains its illegal presence in Syria both in respect of bases and in respect of frequent air raids which have had a devastating effect on the civilian population, the overall trajectory of US participation in Syria seems to be from an entirely different position from what was observed in the Spring of 2017 when on the 6th of April, the US attacked a Syrian base without any legal justification.
Here is the important series of very recent events.
1. 19 June, 2017: Russia threatens to target US aircraft
On the 18th of June, the United States shot down a Syrian Arab Airforce fighter-jet which was conducting anti-terrorist operations in al-Tabqah, Raqqa Governorate.
The shooting down of a Syrian plane on Syrian soil by American forces which have no legal basis to be in Syria in the first place, was condemned resoundingly by Russia.
Russia furiously stated that the attack was a violation of international law, an act of aggression against a sovereign nation and an act which manifestly aided terrorists.
The next day, on the 19th of June, Russia issued the following statement,
“In the areas of combat missions of Russian air fleet in Syrian skies, any airborne objects, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles of the (US-led) international coalition, located to the west of the Euphrates River, will be tracked by Russian ground and air defence forces as air targets”.
This remains Russia’s most serious threat to the US in respect of America ceasing its aggression in Syria to-date. By contrast, after the US attack on a west Syrian airbase in April of 2017, Russia condemned the attack and temporarily cut off the flight safety phone line it maintains with the US in Syria, but no further condemnation or threats were issued.
In this instance, however, Russia defined clear spheres of influence in Syria. The areas west of the Euphrates were uncontested areas of Syrian domination which Russia would defended by targeting US aircraft if necessary.
The United States has not touched a single Syrian aircraft since.
2. 27 June, 2017: One false flag and two non-attacks
On 27 June, The White House Press Secretary announced that the US had information that Syria was about to conduct a chemical weapons attack. In a manner that was frankly, surreal, the US threatened to conduct a “heavy” attack on Syrian forces as a result of an attack which hadn’t happened and which objectively could not happen as the US and Russia both agreed that Syria gave up what remained of her unused chemical weapons stockpiles by 2014.
This was later followed by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley threatening both Iran and Russia over the prognosticated incident that never happened.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova came out swinging, stating that Russia was aware of two locations for a possible false flag attack staged by terrorists.
At the same time, US Secretary of Defence James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis seemed to contradict the belicosity of Nikki Haley and Sean Spicer, saying that it remains a US goal to ‘de-conflict’ with Russia.
In the end, terrorists claimed they were attacked and no one appeared to believe them this time. The result is that the US did not make good on its treat.
3. 7 July, 2017: Trump and Putin agree to establish a ceasefire in south western Syria
The proximity in time of the US declaring an imminent chemical weapons attack in Syria and Donald Trump’s scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, seems to me far more than coincidental. It was as if certain individuals in the American deep state wanted to derail any potential progress in respect of the first meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
In the end, the meeting not only happened but went on for hours longer than originally scheduled.
The result of the meeting was the agreement by the US and Russia along with Jordan to guarantee a ceasefire in south western Syria. The agreement also intends to turn areas where the ceasefire has been established into a new de-escolation zone to be jointly enforced by Russian, America and Jordanian forces.
4. 14 July, 2017: Donald Trump praises ceasefire in south western Syria and agrees that US should cooperate further with Russia
During his first full interview since meeting with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump said that only “fools” would want hostility with Russia. This came after Trump praised the ceasefire in south western Syria during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
During the press conference, Donald Trump stated that he would like more such ceasefire agreements to come into effect while Macron admitted that regime change is no longer on the table for France, a country whose foreign policy is increasingly a carbon-copy of American policy.
5. 19 July, 2017: Confirmation that Trump ordered CIA to stop arming jihadist terrorists in Syria
Multiple press-sources confirmed that Donald Trump ordered the CIA to cease arming jihadist groups in Syria, a claim backed up from information on the ground that FSA jihadists were forced by the United States to withdraw from the race to Raqqa in favour of strongly US backed Kurdish forces.
This is a clear indication that under Trump, the United States has given up on Barack Obama’s flagship policy of arming jihadists under the guise that they are ‘moderate’.
6. 22 July, 2017: US General admits American forces are in Syria illegally
In a surprisingly genuine Mea culpa, US Army General Raymond Thomas stated that the US “would have no ability to stay” in Syria if the America presence was challenged in respect of international law.
He further stated,
“Here’s the conundrum: We are operating in the sovereign country of Syria. The Russians, their stalwarts, their backstoppers have already uninvited the Turks from Syria. We’re a bad day away from the Russians saying, ‘Why are you still in Syria, U.S.?”
His statement vis-a-vis Turkey is not entirely true. Turkey remains in Syria and remains there illegally. However, what Russia has been able to do is bring Turkey into the Astana Peace Process which created multiple de-escalation zones in Syria. This has had the aggregate effect of reducing many Turkish operations against Syrian forces while the US backing of Kurdish forces has led Ankara to more or less swap its duel anti-Syrian and anti-Kurdish position in Syria to one that is now almost exclusively anti-Kurdish.
All of this has had the effect of America switching from a position of geo-political unilateralism in Syria to one where the US is increasingly acknowledging that the only super-power that calls the shots in Syria is Russia. This is not to say that the US will not still continue illegal airstrikes on civilians that remain un-coordinated with Damascus, nor that the US presence in Syria is any less illegal because of the aforementioned admission by a top US General.
It is merely a matter of America realising that it cannot control events in Syria without having to fight Russia, both diplomatically and possibly even militarily, should America persist. Under the Trump administration, the US seems to want to avoid fighting Russia for influence in Syria. By contrast, Hillary Clinton promised the opposite during her campaign.