US seems to be following two different policies in Syria

BASEL HAJ JASEM * - BADER SLEEM **
Published 30.01.2019 01:04
A member of a YPG-linked group walks amid debris in the Syrian village of Baghouz, Jan. 27, 2019.
A member of a YPG-linked group walks amid debris in the Syrian village of Baghouz, Jan. 27, 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out U.S. troops from Syria has been extensively covered by media outlets and political analysts. Some described it as a change in strategy, while others went to the extent of considering it a "betrayal" for allies. In fact, Trump spoke several times about his intention to get the U.S. out of Syria during his election campaign, and his recent decision just fulfills the promises he already made.

The media focus on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria is reminiscent of the great media attention at the Helsinki Summit, which brought together the Russian and American leaders, Vladimir Putin and Trump.

The two leaders met in Helsinki in July 2018. During his presidential campaign, Trump had already recurrently expressed his intention for establishing good relations with the Kremlin, and the Helsinki Summit resembled the start. It was the first face-to-face talks between the two, which Trump described as "deeply productive dialogue," while the Russian president saw it as "candid and useful" and talked about a "joint wish to restore the acceptable level of trust, and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual interests and issues."

The Helsinki meeting brought a wave of criticism and rage against Trump from media, observers and U.S. officials. Senior Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham took to Twitter and dubbed the meeting as a "missed opportunity to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling."

On Trump-Putin relations

Observers expected Trump to at least blame Russia for its intrusion in the U.S. elections, especially after the Mueller probe indicted 12 Russians for email hacking of the Democratic Party computer system that affected the results of the presidential election. However, Trump did not meet the expectations and never condemned Russia in the press conference with Putin. He rather exclaimed: "President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be!"He further explained that he "addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference" in the elections, but didn't reveal any details about the discussions. Trump attacked the Mueller probe calling it a "disaster to 'our' country" and blamed it for keeping the two countries "apart."

"There was no collusion at all," he affirmed and expressed his interest in dialogue with Russia toward "friendship, cooperation and peace." He also showed that he was keen on getting Russia back into the G7 and refused to denounce it for Crimea's annexation.

Recently, The Washington Post claimed in a report that "Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details" about the Helsinki talks. When asked if he's willing to release the details of his talks with the Russian president last summer, Trump responded that he's not "keeping anything under wraps."

Trump's summit with Russia wasn't the sole frowned upon step he took through his revolutionary term, he was also harshly criticized after his attendance at the NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018. During the frenzy meeting with NATO leaders, he delivered a rant against Germany, accusing it of not doing enough to pay on defense and of becoming a "captive" to Russia due to its dependence on it for energy. During his visit to London in July 2018, Trump also drove the media and public opinion nuts when he slammed U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on her conduct on Brexit.

As for the Syrian crisis and its complications, the U.S. policy has taken a heavy toll on it too. The three guarantors in Syria i.e., Russia, Turkey and Iran had previously succeeded in de-escalating the situation in Syria and establishing four de-escalation zones: Idlib, Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in northern Homs, eastern Ghouta in northern Damascus and Deraa and Quneitra.

Presently, only the Idlib province and the areas surrounding it, extending from Aleppo to Hamah and Latakia, still fall under a de-escalation zone. It's worth mentioning here that the United States was a guarantor representing the Syrian opposition in Deraa, southern Syria when it signed the cease-fire deal along with Russia and Jordan in Amman in 2017. After that, the U.S. didn't care about the citizens living in southern Syria and left it to Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime to take control in the denoted area.

The withdrawal process

After Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, we witnessed in media and from some U.S. officials, hideous comments implying a support for projects that threaten the territorial integrity of Syria and encourage the establishment of a settlement entity on Arab soil, in the area from Manbij to east of the Euphrates. Amnesty International had previously tackled in its reports the war crimes that were executed by the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK's terrorist Syrian offshoot backed by the U.S., against inhabitants living east of the Euphrates River.

It's very clear that the comments of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Trump's decision constitute a misrepresentation; hence, they don't differentiate between Kurds as a minority group living in Syria (composing no more than 6 percent of the total population) and the outlawed organizations implementing a separation project. Such organizations, namely the YPG, didn't only inflict harm on Arabs living in northern Syria, but displaced their own people from Ayn al-Arab, forcing them to flee to Turkey away from persecution. The U.S. stayed totally careless when it came to Arabs being forcefully displaced from their regions east of the Euphrates, and didn't take one single action to halt the pre-planned demographical change carried out by terrorist groups it supports there.

To sum up, the main question we pose in the aftermath of the recent revolutionary U.S. policies: Is the U.S. adopting double policies in Syria? And do the contradictory standards apply to other global political issues and crises, like the relation with NATO, the Middle East and North Korea, too?

* Researcher in Russian and Turkish affairs

** Journalist and Former Program Presenter at Aljazeera Network

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