Thursday, July 20, 2017

On ending CIA assistance to those Syrian Moderates

Chris Matthews and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper makes Trump's announcement that the CIA would be cutting off support to "the moderate opposition groups" (sic; Clapper) sound like a mindless concession to the Russia. And it may actually be. James Clapper: President Donald Trump Is Making Russia Great Again 07/20/2017:

But as Trump's Secretary of Energy Rick Perry once memorably observed, even a stopped clock is right once a day.

And, as Juan Cole explains, there isn't much left of that famous Syrian Moderate Opposition in any event (Trump hands Putin gift, cancels Support for Syrian Rebels Informed Comment 07/20/2017):

"Ever since Russia intervened in Syria in fall of 2015, its Aerospace forces have given support to the Syrian Arab Army in a bid to roll back and defeat the armed opposition, especially in the northwest of the country," he writes, adding:

Still, the Syrian Arab Army is small and stretched thin. The small and not very important CIA program was enough to keep some of the rebel groups going in ways that proved an irritant to the Baath government and to Russian strategic planners. They would much prefer that the US stopped supporting the rebels in any way. For one thing, withdrawal of Washington’s backing would be a huge blow to the flagging morale of the opposition. [my emphasis]
So it's a concession to Russia and the Assad government in Syria.

But the material effect on military operations is unlikely to be substantial:

Many of these remnants of the Free Syrian Army appear to have been small and to have controlled two valleys and a hill each. The most effective fighters in the opposition continued to be extremists, whether Nusra or its forrmal ally, the Freemen of the Levant.
The Free Syrian Army and the more radical groups have in any case been decisively defeated, with Russian help. The only reason given for continued US backing of a lost cause was to maintain some leverage to force Bashar al-Assad from office. But al-Assad won’t be forced out as long as he has Iranian and Russian support, so that wasn’t going to happen. The US program was just prolonging the violence in some northern provinces.
As Cole also alludes to in that post, the moderation of these Syrian Moderates has also been hard to find all along. But maybe the same people still searching for Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" are searching for the Syrian Moderates.

But not all US aid to anti-Assad forces has been cut off:

The cancellation of the CIA program does not affect the Department of Defense effort in the northeast of Syria, which has formed the Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly leftist Kurds fighting ISIL.

Al-Akhbar (leftist, Beirut) wonders if this move will have an effect on the rivalry between US-backed rebels in the southeast near the Jordanian border where the US has a small base. That base is aimed at ISIL to its north but also at Iran and Iranian logistics for supplying Hizbullah. It could be that US troops will now be evacuated from this southeast pocket which would be a victory for Iran more than for Russia. [my emphasis]
It's always good to keep in mind that Turkey is highly suspicious of Kurdish separatists. And that the EU is relying very heavily right now on an agreement with Turkey to hold refugees headed for Europe. Richard Haass and Gareth Porter had these Twitter comments:

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