In a big week for Syrian peace talks, President Assad was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, where the leaders of Iran and Turkey are also to convene. Fittingly, perhaps, the US had no input into the renewed effort for peace in Syria.
Putin said that with the defeat of ISIS (Daesh, Islamic State) and other terror groups in Syria now virtually achieved, the parties to the conflict must underpin the political means to win the peace. Significantly, the talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi reinforce the earlier Geneva accord which assents to President Bashar Assad and his government in Damascus as the sovereign authority of Syria.
The demand by Washington and its European allies for Assad to “stand down” has long ago expired. That void is a tacit acknowledgment the nearly seven-year covert war in Syria for regime change has been defeated or at least the covert war in its guise of Western-backed proxy militant groups.
The absence of US and European officials at the peace talks in Sochi this week speaks volumes about their pernicious role in the Syrian war.
While Syria, Russia, Iran, and Turkey endeavor to revamp the peace negotiations, it is significant that Pentagon chief James Mattis was last week saying that US military forces would be digging in further on Syrian territory.
The reluctance of US forces to pack up in Syria despite the demise of the terror groups is perhaps best viewed as part of a regional resurgence of an American military presence. Under President Trump – despite his election campaign promises – the level of US forces has increased substantially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deployment in Syria fits into this pattern of a regional buildup.
The increasing level of US military strength in the region also underlines the ominous signs of Saudi Arabia and Israel ramping up hostility toward Iran and Lebanon.
Last week, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said American forces would be staying in Syria despite the contradiction of terror groups being routed. Mattis' claims that US forces have a legal United Nations’ mandate for their presence in Syria were dismissed by Russia and Syria as a flawed understanding of international law.
But even on Mattis’ own faulty reasoning, his claims are dubious. If US forces have a mandate to be in Syria to defeat terrorists, as claimed, then why are they there given the terrorists have been largely defeated?
Mattis said the new purpose of US forces were to “prevent ISIS 2.0” arising. Despite the fact that the Americans hardly ever engaged in fighting against ISIS, and indeed, as the BBC even reported, gave the militants safe passage, including helicopter airlifting commanders out of harm’s way.
It was the Syrian Arab Army, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah who did all the heavy lifting to roll back the terror groups, which had been covertly armed and financed by the US and its NATO and regional client regimes. ISIS, Nusra, and all the other alphabet-soup terror groups were only ever a pretext for the US to deploy its warplanes and Special Forces in Syria – a presence which actually constitutes foreign aggression, as the Syrian government and Russia have repeatedly pointed out.