US Gambling on War
with Russia in Syria
November 13, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "SCF"
- As US Secretary of State John Kerry convenes with diplomats from
Russia and other nations for a second round of political talks on
the Syrian conflict in Vienna this weekend, it is becoming clear
that Washington is gambling on a two-prong strategy. But the US
gamble carries a grave risk of blowing up into a war with Russia.
The New York Times
reported this week: «For the first time in the four-year Syrian
civil war, President Obama is beginning to execute a combined
diplomatic and military approach to force President Bashar al-Assad
to leave office and end the carnage».
Forcing Syria’s leader
Assad «to leave office» is the key objective. That is, regime
change. While «ending the carnage» is only a bit of public relations
The NY Times explains
further what this combined diplomatic and military approach entails.
«As 50 Special Operations [American] troops arrive in Syria to
bolster the most effective opposition groups, the [Obama]
administration is gambling that Secretary of State John Kerry will
have more leverage to push Russia, Iran and other players toward two
objectives: a cease-fire to limit the cycle of killing and the
establishment of a timeline for a transition of power».
When Kerry met his
Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Vienna two weeks ago, along
with diplomats from 18 other states, that summit came with the
surprise announcement by Washington that it was planning to send 50
special forces troops into Syria. Kerry said then that the move was
merely «a coincidence». We know now, from the above NY Times report
this week, that Kerry was either dissembling or out of the loop,
because the military decision is reportedly part of a «combined
Carter, the US Secretary of Defence,
said last weekend that it was likely that more American troops
would be sent into Syria.
What other military
leverage is being contemplated? This week, Turkey’s President Recep
said that a joint ground force was being prepared to set up
«safe zones» within Syria. Erdogan said he had discussed this
contingency with Obama in a phone call. Of course, Erdogan couched
the planned invasion of Syria as a measure to counter the extremist
Islamic State group (also known as ISIS, ISIL).
Again, that is just
public relations window-dressing since Erdogan’s Turkey has been a
main sponsor and facilitator of extremist groups infiltrating Syria
from Turk territory.
Erdogan said: «We are
insisting on a no-fly zone in Syria as a safe zone. Our allies are
getting closer to the idea. Some progress has also been made on
conducting a ground operation against ISIL… Yesterday [Monday], I
had a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama on the
The idea of annexing
Syrian territory has long been pushed by Turkey since the beginning
of the Syrian conflict more than four years ago. Hawkish pundits and
politicians in Washington have also been advocating safe zones or
no-fly zones in Syria. But up to now, the Obama administration has
baulked at that intervention owing to perceived military risks of
According to Erdogan,
the White House seems to be finally warming to the idea of annexing
Syrian territory. That concurs with the apparent U-turn by the Obama
administration to put boots on the ground with the dispatch of
special forces and the promise of more troops, as indicated by
Carter. The stated purpose of these troops being sent to organise
anti-IS local forces among Kurdish and Syrian Arab does not hold
water. A recent report by the New York Times admitted that this
local Kurd-Arab coalition was an American «invention» that «existed
in name only».
Besides, such a
US-supported ground coalition that bolstered Kurdish militia and
their aspirations for a separatist state on the southern Turkish
border would be anathema to the Erdogan regime in Ankara.
That Washington is now
calculating on throwing its weight behind the Turkish plan to carve
out Syrian territory may also account for the recent assignment of
US F-15 fighter jets to Turkey’s southwest Incirlik NATO base. As
other observers have noted, the F-15s are air-to-air combat planes.
They would have no role in launching ground attacks supposedly
against Islamic State militants. But the fighter jets would have a
role in patrolling the skies over the would-be safe zones annexed by
Turk and US ground forces. That would inevitably pit these US
warplanes against Syrian and Russian aircraft.
Meanwhile, in southern
Syria the Israelis appear to consulting with the Obama
administration over their own annexation plans. The Times of Israel
reported that during his White House meeting with Obama this
week, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of
formally annexing the Golan Heights. The territory has been held by
Israel since the 1967 war. Obama reportedly did not mention the
matter publicly, but Netanyahu made it clear that he is looking for
formal US recognition of Israel’s annexation, according to the Times
Note that this de
facto break-up of Syrian territory, in the north and south, is
officially contrary to what US Secretary of State John Kerry said at
the first Vienna summit two weeks ago. Kerry appeared then to agree
with Russia’s position that Syria should remain a unified state.
However, as argued here, the erosion of Syrian sovereign territory
by Turkey and Israel, with US support, appears to be part of the
military leverage that Washington is seeking to exert on Russia in
order for Moscow to accede to American demands for political
transition in Damascus.
Washington’s plans for
increasing military leverage in Syria does not end there. There are
credible reports that the US is stepping up its supply of greater
fire power to the various militant networks. In addition to
anti-tank TOW missiles, Washington appears to be moving towards
giving the go-ahead for the supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
This has long been a request from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but as
with the idea of no-fly zones the Obama administration has
reportedly up to now held back on SAMs. The Saudis have been
according to the BBC, to unleash their US stocks to the
mercenaries in Syria ever since Russia embarked on its military air
campaign to support the Assad government.
The Wall Street
Journal, quoting US officials, reports: «In the past month of
intensifying Russian airstrikes, the CIA and its partners have
increased the flow of military supplies to rebels in northern Syria,
including of US-made TOW anti-tank missiles… In addition to the arms
the US has agreed to provide, Saudi and Turkish officials have
renewed talks with their American counterparts about allowing
limited supplies of shoulder-fire man-portable air-defence systems,
or Manpads, to select rebels. Those weapons could help target regime
aircraft, in particular those responsible for dropping barrel bombs,
and could also help keep Russian air power at bay, the [US]
The WSJ quotes its US
official source further: «Assad is not going to feel any pressure to
make concessions if there is no viable opposition that has the
capacity, through the support of its partners, to put pressure on
Obama has said,
publicly at least, that he has no intention for the US to become
embroiled in a proxy war with Russia in Syria. But Obama’s words on
other issues do not carry much credibility. He is putting American
boots on the ground after vowing not to do so previously. And his
avowed commitments to maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria
also appears now to be unwinding, as Turk and Israeli moves to annex
northern and southern areas suggests.
The two-prong US
strategy of combining diplomatic and military levers to effect its
objective of regime change in Syria may not be contemplating a proxy
war with Russia – at least as far as Obama and Kerry are concerned.
But the hawks in the Pentagon and the CIA, along with the Saudi and
Turk client regimes, seem to be willing to push the risk of a
two-prong vice to its logical conclusion – a war with Russia in
© Strategic Culture Foundation