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Washington Chooses Syria as a Battlefield

Washington Chooses Syria as a Battlefield

Tuesday, 23 January, 2018 - 10:30
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

Despite all the criticism against the current US administration’s policy in the Middle East, we must admit it is clearer and more committed than previous ones. It has chosen Syria as a center for testing its new strategy in fighting ISIS, Russia and Iran. However, we do not know whether or not it will be able to complete the path it had recently planned and announced.

Early in the 1990s, the Soviet Union collapsed ending the Cold War and the only US foreign policy left was countering terrorism. This policy became more about reactions to the September 11, 2001 attacks. This saw it confront terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. This stage lasted for a decade and a half.

We can now see glimpses of confrontations between Washington and Moscow in countries like Syria, Ukraine, Iran and, to a lesser extent, on the Korean Peninsula. This conflict between the Russian and US powers brings back to mind the Cold War, which was highlighted last week when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke about his country's new strategy and said it generally relies on fighting rival powers, mainly Russia and, to a lesser degree, China.

Washington’s policy in the Middle East in general, and in Syria and Iraq in particular, changed under the Trump administration. It has decided to confront Russia’s presence and that of its ally Iran, in addition to fighting ISIS. The US chose Syria as its battlefield, which became very complicated after several powers became involved in the crisis there.

With Washington’s adoption of a clear policy for the first time, it is likely to produce new issues that never existed before, such as that the US will expect its allies to support its policy and restore old alliances. Stances on the Syrian crisis will be classified and, later on, this will apply to other major regional issues, like dealing with Iran.

Turkey, which is a NATO member and historically a US ally, was trying to use the crisis for its own interests, until the battle for Afrin erupted, bringing it into confrontation with Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime. Therefore, Turkey, as well as the rest of the region, will realize their options will narrow down with time.

So will Turkey align with Washington or Moscow in Syria?

The US abandoned last year’s policy of cooperating with Russia in Syria and adopted a new policy based on confronting Russia through regional proxies and alliances. However, Moscow preceded Washington in adopting such a policy by using Iran and its agents, such as Lebanese, Iraqi, and other militias, to fight their battles.

On the other hand, the US is using Kurdish-Syrian militias on the ground, along with remnants of the Free Syrian Army factions east of the Euphrates. The new US approach is based on thwarting the Russian-Iranian project in Syria and foiling ISIS attempts to return after toppling its “caliphate” in Raqqah.

Luckily for us in the region, decision-makers in Washington have finally realized the danger of the new transformations in Syria. They also oppose what Iran is doing in Iraq.

Even if the situation there does not escalate to the extent of a military confrontation, adopting a hostile policy is enough to raise the cost of war for the Iranian regime and make its ability to control the region an unlikely option at the moment.

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