DUBAI: In October 2019, as Turkey massed its forces on the border with northeast Syria, threatening to invade and carve out a so-called safe zone, Kurdish communities a few miles away are looking to their powerful ally in Washington for help. The US military could keep the forces of its fellow NATO member at bay, the Kurds believed.
Five years of close security cooperation and the sacrifice of more than 11,000 lives in their common fight against Daesh had convinced the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that the bond of trust that had developed between them and the Americans was unbreakable and that when faced with an even more formidable foe, their allies would surely have their backs.
But what the Kurds had already seen was a tweet from President Donald Trump and a video from the White House on December 19, 2018, announcing the withdrawal of all US forces from Syria – except for a few hundred to keep the oil fields near Deir ez-Zor. .
By October 2019, Russian troops and Syrian forces had taken over at least three abandoned US camps in northern Syria. “Russian mercenaries spread their good fortune on social media and took selfies in front of American equipment, while Russian journalists gave walking tours of the base,” Business Insider said in an Oct. 16 report.
Meanwhile, the Turks had launched bombing raids against the SDF in the name of “Operation Peace Spring”. The war effort against the global threat of Daesh – the top priority of the US administration five years ago – meant nothing to Trump. The SDF soldiers who had helped them win summarily let themselves writhe in the wind.
If the abandonment of the Kurds was punctual, it could be considered a simple failure on an otherwise honorable record. But the recurrent American reversals in recent years, in the Middle East and in Europe, indicate more a pattern than an error. In Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and now Ukraine, the peoples and governments who believed they could count on the military support of the superpower have all felt the crushing blow of its absence just when they needed it most. .
In a recent interview with the American magazine Prospect, Anatol Lieven, author of “Ukraine and Russia: A Sibling Rivalry”, said: “We never had the slightest intention of defending Ukraine, not the slightest . Although Britain and America and the NATO secretariat at the Bucharest conference in 2008 came out in favor of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia (the NATO headquarters was completely behind this on American orders), no contingency plans were drawn up, not the most remote or contingent ones, for how NATO might defend Ukraine and Georgia. There was no intention to do that at all.
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Lieven added: “To say that we were going to admit them to NATO: that goes beyond real irresponsibility. In my opinion, it was deeply immoral to make such a commitment that we had no intention of keeping.
Last August, shocking scenes of planes hurtling down the runway at Kabul airport as desperate stowaways fell into the wheel wells of US military cargo planes, became the defining image of a US occupation 20 years old. Not far behind were scenes of Taliban fighters entering Kabul as victors in a long war, their nemesis having fled and the national army raised by the United States falling back almost overnight.
Two decades after promising to bring democracy and freedom to Afghanistan, the United States had simply given up. First Trump, then Joe Biden, had relinquished a clear moral obligation to a population that had made an enormous blood sacrifice for America’s protracted “war on terror.” Nine months later, Afghanistan is a broken country, ruled by an unpopular Islamic fundamentalist group, given power virtually on a platter by a nation that has lost the will to lead and the patience to keep fighting.
In the Middle East, where the United States has walked with a heavy footprint since 9/11, there is little faith that a country that suffers so much from political polarization itself has a coherent vision to offer.
Since 2000, the pendulum has swung between the missionary zeal of George W. Bush’s advisers and the ruthless realism of Barack Obama’s loyalists, and between Trump’s transactional mindset and Biden’s “Obama lite” image.
At different times over the past two decades, Washington’s foreign policy priorities have been dictated either by human rights, business interests, democracy promotion or individual whims. Such a protean approach has taught even friends to be wary.
Washington’s allies in the Gulf learned the lesson the hard way. One administration’s warm embrace as a critical regional security partner has been replaced by distance from the next, along with overtures to Iran.
The recognition of Iran as a malicious actor and the threat posed by the proliferation of Iranian proxies in the region became history almost overnight, while the Houthis were removed from the terrorist list, despite the group’s involvement in the destabilization of the region’s poorest country, Yemen, and attacks on civilian settlements and population centers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Commenting recently on Twitter about the neutrality of US Gulf partners in the face of the Ukraine crisis, Hasan Alhasan, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, found “the subliminal message: this is not our war” similar to that “ systematically (sent) by the United States to the Gulf States on Yemen and Iran over the past few years.
Referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Alhasan added: “Iran wreaked havoc in the region and was locked in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But the US, and especially the EU, was ready to normalize relations with Iran after the JCPOA regardless.
More than two years after Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, the SDF, a mixed Kurdish-Arab military unit created and funded under the Obama administration to lead the fight against Daesh, has not recovered militarily from the American betrayal. Kurds across the border from Iraq, who also took part in the global coalition’s campaign against Daesh, remain equally wary. The idea of the United States being an all-weather partner and a natural ally whom Kurds in the Middle East could blindly trust in times of need has proven particularly fanciful during the Trump presidency.
Six years before the Syrian withdrawal, Obama made another decision that likely changed the course of the country’s civil war, while casting doubt on the West’s ability or willingness to demonstrate the courage of its stated beliefs.
If any issue could excite Western leaders, the widespread use of nerve gas on civilians would surely be the one. But when Syrian President Bashar Assad gassed opposition forces as they approached the gates of Damascus, killing more than 1,300 people on a late summer morning in 2013, the “red line” that Obama had set as a trigger for intervention suddenly became a point of negotiation.
Rather than stand with Syrian civilians, Obama ended up subjecting them to another decade of misery. Impunity has taken root in Syria and in a few years Russia will be drinking from the same tap.
In doing so, America’s main geopolitical adversary established a year-long training ground to prepare for the annexation of Crimea in 2016, which, in hindsight, was a dress rehearsal for what was to happen in February 2022 – l invasion of Ukraine.
“There is no doubt that the Russian intervention in Ukraine is an accumulation of a series of Russian military interventions in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea in 2014 and in Syria in 2015,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, senior diplomatic editor. for Syrian affairs at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. , told the Associated Press news agency recently.
Putin “believes that America is regressing, China’s role is increasing, and Europe is divided and preoccupied with its internal concerns, so he decided to intervene.”