logo

Mike Whitney

U.S. Politics Expert
  • ws

Mike Whitney is a landscape contractor who veered into journalism following the attacks of September 11. He is a Project Censored award winner who writes on foreign policy, domestic politics and the economy. His articles can found at Counterpunch or the Unz Review.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, USA. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion which is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney[at]msn.com

Articles
Reviews
Mike Whitney, USA 02/14/2018 0

Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Pits Neocons Against Traditional Imperialists

The unexpected escalation of fighting on the ground (Afrin), along with Turkey’s promise to clear the Syrian border all the way to the Iraq, has only increased the sense of panic among Trump’s top national security advisors who are making every effort to minimize the damage by trying to bring Turkey’s invasion to a swift end. As yet, there is no sign that Turkey will stop its onslaught short of achieving its goals which involve defeating elements of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have joined the US-backed SDF. Ankara has already warned Washington that it will defend its national security against Kurdish forces (which it considers “terrorists”) whether US troops are located in the area or not. The possibility that one NATO ally might actually attack US Special Forces operating on the ground in Syria has ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity in Washington and across Europe. What started as an announcement that was intended to send a warning to Moscow and Tehran that the US planned to be in Syria “for the long-haul”, has dramatically backfired pitting Ankara against Washington while casting doubt on the Trump administration’s ability to diffuse a potentially-explosive situation. Here’s a clip from veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn’s latest in The Independent:

The US may want to get rid of Assad and weaken Iran across the region but it is too late. Pro-Iranian governments in Iraq and Syria are in power and Hezbollah is the most powerful single force in Lebanon. This is not going to change any time soon and, if the Americans want to weaken Assad by keeping a low-level war going, then this will make him even more reliant on Iran.

The present Turkish incursion shows that Ankara is not going to allow a new Kurdish state under US protection to be created in northern Syria and will fight rather than let this happen. But the YPG is highly motivated, well-armed and militarily experienced and will fight very hard, even though they may ultimately be overwhelmed by superior forces or because the Turkish and Syrian governments come together to crush them.

It was a bad moment for the US to stir the pot by saying it would stay in Syria and target Assad and Iran. A Kurdish-Turkish war in northern Syria will be a very fierce one. The US obsession with an exaggerated Iranian threat – about which, in any case, it cannot do much – makes it difficult for Washington to mediate and cool down the situation. Trump and his chaotic administration have not yet had to deal with a real Middle East crisis yet and the events of the last week suggest that they will not be able to do so.” (“Patrick Cockburn, The Independent)

The Trump administration has made a hash of everything and it is no longer certain that their present Syria strategy is viable. Trump’s national security advisor General HR McMaster has made every effort to smooth things over with Ankara, but his promises of accommodation do not approach Turkey’s grandiose demands. Consider the list of Turkish demands listed in the Turkish Daily, The Hurriyet:

1. No weapons should be given to the YPG.

2. Weapons already delivered to the YPG should be taken back immediately.

3. Military training given to the YPG should be ceased.

4. No logistical support should be given.

5. All ties with the YPG should be cut.

The Trump administration is not prepared to sever ties with its most effective fighters on the ground. Washington intends to use these troops to hold territory in the east, launch destabilizing attacks on the Assad government, and to undermine Iran’s influence in Syria.  As one anonymous US official candidly admitted, “The entire US strategy rests on the Kurds.” So, while McMaster has already promised to stop all weapons shipments to the SDF, he will undoubtedly reverse his position when the fighting subsides and the crisis passes.

Washington’s biggest problem is the absence of a coherent policy. While the recently released National Defense Strategy articulated a change in the way the imperial strategy would be implemented, (by jettisoning the “war on terror” pretext to a “great power” confrontation)  the changes amount to nothing more than a tweaking of the public relations ‘messaging’. Washington’s global ambitions remain the same albeit with more emphasis on raw military power. As for Syria, Washington still hasn’t settled on a way to square the circle, that is, a way to support its Kurdish forces on the ground without provoking its Turkish allies who see the Kurds as an existential threat. This conundrum might have continued to be ignored for some time, had not Secretary of State Rex Tillerson let the cat out of the bag and revealed Washington’s real intentions. Which is why McMaster has been doing every thing he can to put the genie back in the bottle.

But even these problems are just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the fact that there deep and irreconcilable differences between foreign policy elites as to what the policy should be.  Check out this excerpt from the New York Times:

The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds. That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The conflicting statements appeared to reflect an effort by the administration to balance competing pressures… the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed….

…the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force. And a senior American commander praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.  (“Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds”, New York Times)

The apparent split between the Pentagon and the White House does not reflect the deeper divisions which will become more apparent as the traditional imperialists in the administration face-off with the neocons in a cage-match that will determine the shape of policy in Syria and beyond. Simply put, the neocons favor an independent Kurdish state (that is opposed by Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey) while the traditionalists lean more towards accommodating their NATO ally, Turkey. Here’s a short excerpt from an article at the neocon braintrust, The Weekly Standard, that makes the case for a Kurdish homeland. The article, which was written in 2017, is titled “A Kurdish State is in America’s Interest—and the Region’s, Too”:

America’s main Middle East ally, however, is unequivocally in favor of an independent Kurdistan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that Israel supports “the legitimate means of the Kurdish people to obtain their own state.”…

Israel, like many supporters of the Kurds, appreciates the KRG’s pro-Western sensibility. And the KRG returns Israel’s affection, flying Israeli flags at independence rallies. … As Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid tweeted: “The Jewish people know what it is to struggle for a homeland. The Kurds have a moral right to a state of their own. I wish them luck today.”

There’s little doubt that Israeli officials truly are moved by the KRG’s dreams of statehood, but no one in the Middle East can afford to premise national interests on sentimental reasons. Israel sees the KRG as an ally, especially in its struggle with Iran. Jerusalem believes that an independent Kurdish state on Iran’s border will serve as a bridgehead against what it perceives as the region’s main strategic threat.

And that puts Israel at cross-purposes with the United States. The Trump administration believes that destroying ISIS is the key issue in the region, which is why it criticizes the referendum. However, the effect of the anti-ISIS campaign is to strengthen further Iran’s position—at the expense not only of Israel, but all American allies, and the United States itself. Thus, the KRG referendum highlights the strategic picture in the Middle East right now. It doesn’t look good for American interests.” (“A Kurdish State is in America’s Interest—and the Region’s, Too”, The Weekly Standard)

While the above excerpt relates to the efforts of Iraq’s Kurds to create their own autonomous homeland via referendum, as far as Israel is concerned,  the same rule applies to Syria’s Kurds, that is, an independent Kurdish state that is not only pro-Western, but directly beholden to Washington, will help to contain, what Israel perceives to be, the region’s main strategic threat, Iran. A Kurdish Republic would also help to balkanize Syria, control the flow of oil in the eastern part of the country, and be a constant threat to the other strong, secular Arab countries in the region. It would effectively create a powerful US-Israeli garrison at the heart of the Middle East which would further reinforce Israel’s claim to regional hegemony. For these reasons we should expect to see a tug-of-war between competing US policy elites in the weeks ahead.

Regrettably, neither the Israeli-friendly neocons nor the traditional US imperialists seek a remedy that would end the seven year-long war or allow 5 million Syrian refugees to return to their battered homes.

Top Photo | National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster listens at right, behind Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, during a Cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump, June 12, 2017. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

© CounterPunch

Mike Whitney, USA 02/09/2018 0

Washington Widens the War in Syria by Provoking Turkey

Here’s what’s going on: On January 18, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the creation of a 30,000-man Border Security Force (BSF) to occupy East Syria. Two days later, January 20, the Turkish Army launched a ground and air offensive against Kurdish troops in the Afrin canton in Northwest Syria.

The media has tried to downplay the connection between the two events, but the cause-and-effect relationship is pretty clear.  Tillerson’s  provocation triggered the Turkish invasion and another bloody phase to the needlessly-protracted conflict.  Washington’s screwup has made a bad situation even worse.

A five-year-old child could have figured out that Turkey wasn’t going to sit-back and let the US establish a Kurdish state on its border without putting up a fight. Keep in mind, the US plans to defend this new protectorate with  a 30,000-man proxy-army comprised of mostly Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units or YPG.  The Turks, however, believe the YPG is connected to the terror-listed PKK which  has prosecuted a scorched earth campaign against the Turkish state for decades. That’s why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not allow these groups to dig in along Turkey’s southern border, they constitute a serious threat to Turkey’s security. Just imagine if Hezbollah decided to set up military encampments along the Mexican border. How long do you think it would take before Trump blew those camps to kingdom come? Not long, I’d wager.

So why did Tillerson think Erdogan would respond differently?

There’s only one explanation: Tillerson must be so blinded by hubris that he couldn’t figure out what Erdogan’s reaction would be.  He must have thought that,  “Whatever Uncle Sam says, goes.” Only it doesn’t work like that anymore. The US has lost its ability to shape events in the Middle East, particularly in Syria where its jihadist proxies have been rolled back on nearly every front. The US simply doesn’t have sufficient forces on the ground to determine the outcome, nor is it respected as an honest broker, a dependable ally or a reliable steward of regional security.  The US is just one of many armed-factions struggling to gain the upper hand in an increasingly fractious and combustible battlespace.  Simply put,  Washington is losing the war quite dramatically due in large part to the emergence of a new coalition  (Russia-Syria-Iran-Hezbollah) that has made great strides in Syria and that is committed to preserve the Old World Order, a system that is built on the principles of national sovereignty, self determination and non intervention. Washington opposes this system and is doing everything in its power dismantle it by redrawing borders, toppling elected leaders, and installing its own stooges to execute its diktats. Tillerson’s blunder will only make Washington’s task all the more difficult by drawing Turkey into the fray in an effort to quash Uncle Sam’s Kurdish proxies.

In an effort to add insult to injury,  Tillerson didn’t even have the decency to discuss the matter with Erdogan– his NATO ally– before making the announcement! Can you imagine how furious Erdogan must have been?   Shouldn’t the president of Turkey expect better treatment from his so-called friends in Washington who use Turkish air fields to  supply their ground troops and to carry out their bombing raids in Syria? But instead of gratitude, he gets a big kick in the teeth with the announcement that the US is hopping into bed with his mortal enemies, the Kurds. Check out this excerpt from Wednesday’s Turkish daily, The Hurriyet ,which  provides a bit of background on the story:

“It is beyond any doubt that the U.S. military and administration knew that the People’s Protection Units (YPG)…had organic ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Washington officially recognizes as a terrorist group….The YPG is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the political wing of the PKK in Syria. They share the same leadership…the same budget, the same arsenal, the same chain of command from the Kandil Mountains in Iraq, and the same pool of militants. So the PYD/YPG is actually not a “PKK-affiliated” group, it is a sub-geographical unit of the same organization….

Knowing that the YPG and the PKK are effectively equal, and legally not wanting to appear to be giving arms to a terrorist organization, the U.S. military already asked the YPG to “change the brand” back in 2015. U.S.

Special Forces Commander General Raymond Thomas said during an Aspen Security Forum presentation on July 22, 2017 that he had personally proposed the name change to the YPG.

“With about a day’s notice [the YPG] declared that it was now the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF],” Thomas said to laughter from the audience. “I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put ‘democracy’ in there somewhere. It gave them a little bit of credibility.” (Hurriyet)

Ha, ha, ha. Isn’t that funny? One day you’re a terrorist, and the next day you’re not depending on whether Washington can use you or not. Is it any wonder why Erdogan is so pissed off?

So now a messy situation gets even messier. Now the US has to choose between its own proxy army (The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces) and a NATO ally that occupies the critical crossroads between Asia and Europe. Washington’s plan to pivot to Asia by controlling vital resources and capital flowing between the continents depends largely on its ability to keep regional leaders within its orbit. That means Washington needs Erdogan in their camp which, for the time being, he is not.

Apparently, there have been phone calls between Presidents Trump and Erdogan, but early accounts saying that Trump scolded Erdogan have already been disproven. In fact, Trump and his fellows have been bending-over-backwards to make amends for Tillerson’s foolish slip-up. According to the Hurriyet:

“The readout issued by the White House does not accurately reflect the content of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s phone call with President [Donald] Trump,”…“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns [about] escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin.”…The Turkish sources also stressed that Trump did not use the words “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey.”…

Erdoğan reiterated that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) must withdraw to the East of the Euphrates River and pledged the protection of Manbij by the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA)…

“In response to President Erdoğan’s call on the United States to end the delivery of weapons to the [Democratic Union Party] PYD-YPG, President Trump said that his country no longer supplied the group with weapons and pledged not to resume the weapons delivery in the future,” the sources added.” (Hurriyet)

If this report can be trusted, (Turkish media is no more reliable than US media) then it is Erdogan who is issuing the demands not Trump.  Erdogan insists that all YPG units be redeployed east of the Euphrates and that all US weapons shipments to Washington’s Kurdish proxies stop immediately. We should know soon enough whether Washington is following Erdogan’s orders or not.

So far, the only clear winner in this latest conflagration has been Vladimir Putin, the levelheaded pragmatist who hews to Napoleon’s directive to “Never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself.”

Putin gave Erdogan the green light to conduct “Operation Olive Branch” in order to pave the way for an eventual Syrian takeover of the Northwestern portion of the country up to the Turkish border.  Moscow removed its troops from the Afrin quarter (where the current fighting is taking place) but not before it presented the Kurds with the option of conceding control of the area to the central government in Damascus. The Kurds rejected that offer and elected to fight instead. Here’s an account of what happened:

Nearly a week ago, [a] meeting between Russian officials and Kurdish leaders took place. Moscow suggested Syrian State becomes only entity in charge of the northern border. The Kurds refused. It was immediately after that that the Turkish Generals were invited to Moscow. Having the Syrian State in control of its Northern Border wasn’t the only Russian demand. The other was that the Kurds hand back the oil fields in Deir al Zor. The Kurds refused suggesting that the US won’t allow that anyway.

Putin has repeatedly expressed concern about US supplies of advanced weapons that had been given to the Kurdish SDF. According to the military website South Front:

“Uncontrolled deliveries of modern weapons, including reportedly the deliveries of the man-portable air defense systems, by the Pentagon to the pro-US forces in northern Syria, have contributed to the rapid escalation of tensions in the region and resulted in the launch of a special operation by the Turkish troops.” (SouthFront)

Erdogan’s demand that Trump stop the flow of weapons to the SDF will benefit Russia and its allies on the ground even more than they will benefit Turkey. It’s another win-win situation for Putin.

The split between the NATO allies seems to work in Putin’s favor as well, although, to his credit, he has not tried to exploit the situation. Putin ascribes to the notion that relations between nations are not that different than relations between people, they must be built on a solid foundation of trust which gradually grows as each party proves they are steady, reliable partners who can be counted on to honor their commitments and keep their word. Putin’s honesty, even-handedness and reliability have greatly enhanced Russia’s power in the region and his influence in settling global disputes.  That is particularly evident in Syria where Moscow is at the center of all decision-making.

As we noted earlier, Washington has made every effort to patch up relations with Turkey and put the current foofaraw behind them. The White House has issued a number of servile statements acknowledging Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and their “commitment to work with Turkey as a NATO ally.” And there’s no doubt that the administration’s charm offensive will probably succeed in bringing the narcissistic and mercurial Erdogan back into the fold. But for how long?

At present, Erdogan is still entertains illusions of cobbling together a second Ottoman empire overseen by the Grand Sultan Tayyip himself, but when he finally comes to his senses and realizes the threat that Washington poses to Turkish independence and sovereignty,  he may reconsider and throw his lot with Putin.

In any event, Washington has clearly tipped its hand revealing its amended strategy for Syria, a plan that abandons the pretext of a “war on terror” and focuses almost-exclusively on military remedies to the “great power” confrontation outlined in Trump’s new National Defense Strategy. Washington is fully committed to building an opposition proxy-army in its east Syria enclave that can fend off loyalist troops, launch destabilizing attacks on the regime, and eventually, effect the political changes that help to achieve its imperial ambitions.

Tillerson’s announcement may have prompted some unexpected apologies and back-tracking, but the policy remains the same. Washington will persist in its effort to divide the country and remove Assad until an opposing force prevents it from doing so.  And, that day could be sooner than many people imagine.

Top photo: Photo by davitydave | CC BY 2.0

By Counter Punch

Mike Whitney, USA 01/30/2018 0

Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation

Tillerson’s announcement was made at a confab he attended at Stanford University at the Hoover Institute. According to The Hill:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday outlined a new U.S. strategy in Syria, hinging on maintaining an indefinite military presence in the country with the goal of ousting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and keeping militant groups at bay.

Speaking at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Tillerson sought to make the case for an extended U.S. military role, backed by a United Nations-brokered political solution, in the war-torn country.

A U.S. withdrawal, he said, would likely have disastrous consequences.

“Total withdrawal would restore Assad and continue brutal treatment of his own people,” Tillerson said. (Tillerson outlines plan for long-term US military role in Syria”, The Hill)

Tillerson’s comments underscore the fact that recent setbacks in the 7-year-long conflict, have not dampened Washington’s determination to topple the elected government of Syria and to impose its own political vision on the country. They also confirm that the United States intends to occupy parts of Syria for the foreseeable future. As the article clearly states:

The secretary’s remarks on Wednesday signaled his most explicit endorsement yet for long-term U.S. military presence in the country. (The Hill)

On Thursday, Tillerson backtracked from his earlier statement saying his comments had been “misportrayed”.

“That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, (and) some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all,” (Tillerson said)

Regrettably, the media did not “misportray” Washington’s intentions or policy. In fact, the details have been circulating since last weekend when an article appeared in The Defense Post announcing the creation of 30,000 man border security force. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State is currently training a force to maintain security along the Syrian border as the operation against ISIS shifts focus. The 30,000-strong force will be partly composed of veteran fighters and operate under the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces, CJTF-OIR told The Defense Post.

“The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” ….Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale said….

“The BSF will be stationed along the Euphrates River Valley – marking the western edge of the territory within Syria currently controlled by SDF – and the Iraqi and Turkish borders,” he said. (The Defense Post)

As we have noted before, Washington is determined to throw up an iron curtain along the Euphrates consistent with its plan to split Syria into smaller parts, support the central government’s enemies, and create a safe haven for launching attacks on the government in Damascus. Seen in this light, the 30,000-man “border security force” is not a border security force at all, but a slick Madison Avenue-type sobriquet for Washington’s proxy army of occupation. The fact that “The Coalition told The Defense Post that ‘north army’ was not a recognized term in Syria,” indicates the importance Washington places on its particular “product branding”. The “border security force” (BSF) moniker helps to conceal the fact that Washington has armed and trained a mainly-Kurdish proxy-army to pursue Washington’s strategic objectives in Syria which include toppling the government of Bashar al Assad, splintering the country into smaller tribal-run territories, and installing a compliant stooge in the Capitol who will follow Washington’s diktats.

In order to achieve those goals, Washington has had to make critical concessions to its Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is ‘an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria dominated by the Kurdish YPG.’ The Kurds expect the US to honor its demands for a Kurdish homeland, an autonomous statelet carved out of Syria’s northeast quadrant, the portion of territory east of the Euphrates captured during the fight against ISIS. Tillerson’s announcement confirmed that the US will support the defense of this territory by its Kurdish proxies inferring that the Trump administration has thrown its weigh behind the unilateral creation of a Kurdish state in east Syria. (Publicly, the US opposes the creation of Kurdistan, but its actions on the ground, indicate its support.) Naturally, this has not gone-over well with the other countries in the region that have struggled to contain Kurdish aspirations for a homeland. The leaders of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose the emergence of a Kurdistan, although Turkey’s president Erdogan has been the most outspoken by far. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to thwart the creation of a U.S-backed 30,000-strong border security force manned mostly by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Turkey’s armed forces completed preparations for an operation against the YPG in their strongholds Afrin, in northwestern Syria, and Manbij, in northern Syria, Erdoğan said on Jan. 15 at an opening ceremony in Ankara.

“The operation may start any time. Operations into other regions will come after,” the president said, noting that the Turkish army was already hitting YPG positions.

“America has acknowledged it is in the process of creating a terror army on our border. What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud,” Erdoğan said….“We won’t be responsible for the consequences.” (The Hurriyet)

It’s worth noting that the US never consulted its NATO ally, Turkey, before initiating its current plan. This suggests that the foreign policy wonks who concocted this misguided scheme must have thought that Erdogan and his fellows would be duped by the paper-thin public relations smokescreen of “border security”. Washington’s reliance on Information Operations and propaganda may have clouded its judgement and impaired its ability to understand how their public relations scam could blow up in their faces. (which it did.)

Despite the foofaraw, there’s nothing new about Washington’s determination to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, in fact, that has been the plan from Day 1. The basic US strategy in Syria has been modified many times in the last few years, particularly after Syrian forces liberated Syria’s industrial hub, Aleppo, which was the turning point in the conflict. Since then, news has circulated about a Plan B, which accepts the reality that Assad will remain in power after the war has ended, but redirects US efforts towards more achievable goals like seizing the vast expanse of land east of the Euphrates which can be used for future regime-destabilizing operations.

The basic outline for Plan B was presented in a Brookings Institute report by chief military analyst, Michael O’ Hanlon. Here’s a clip from his 2014 article titled “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war”:

…the only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria….the international community should work to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria over time… Creation of these sanctuaries would produce autonomous zones that would never again have to face the prospect of rule by either Assad or ISIL….

(“Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war“, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings Institute)

The occupation of east Syria by Kurdish proxies is consistent with O’ Hanlon’s basic plan to fragment the country and create pockets of resistance that will be supported by the US. It is a variation of the divide and conquer theme the US has used in numerous times in the past.

Plan B is Washington’s fallback position now that regime change is no longer within reach. The strategy suggests that Washington never planned to leave after ISIS was defeated, but always intended to stay on to establish bases in the east, (According to Bloomberg News, the US now has 10 permanent bases east of the Euphrates) support an army of occupation, and continue the war against the current government. That’s still the plan today, notwithstanding Washington’s failed attempt to conceal its motives behind its pathetic “border security force”. Erdogan and the rest have already seen through that sham and expressed their unhappiness.

The problem with Plan B is that it presumes that Russia and its coalition partners will try to liberate Kurdish-held east Syria and, thus, get bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict that turns out to be a strategic nightmare as well as a public relations disaster. This is the scenario that Washington is hoping for. In fact,

Trump’s chief national security advisor Lieutenant General H.R McMaster has written extensively on the topic and explained exactly how to undermine the efforts of an advancing army. Here’s an excerpt from a presentation McMaster gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, 2016. He said:

“…what is required to deter a strong nation that is waging limited war for limited objectives on battlegrounds involving weaker states … is forward deterrence, to be able to ratchet up the cost at the frontier, and to take an approach to deterrence that is consistent with deterrence by denial, convincing your enemy that your enemy is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach and the threat of punitive action at long distance later, which we know obviously from – recent experience confirms that that is inadequate.”

“Forward deterrence”? This needs to be clarified.

What McMaster is saying, is that, instead of threatening to retaliate at some time in the future, the US should use ‘deterrence by denial’, that is, make it as hard and as costly as possible for Russia to achieve its strategic objectives. (McMaster’s comments focus on Russia’s involvement in Syria.) By supporting its Kurdish fighters and establishing permanent US bases, McMaster thinks the US can frustrate Russia’s effort to restore Syria’s borders which is one of the primary goals of the mission. The objective of forward deterrence is not to win the war, but to prevent the enemy from winning. The downside to this theory is that– when neither side prevails– there is no political settlement, no end to the fighting, and no path for returning people to their homes so they can resume their lives in peace and security. It is, in fact, a plan designed to perpetuate the suffering, perpetuate the destruction and perpetuate the bloodletting. It’s a solution that provides no solution, a war without end.

More importantly, “Forward deterrence” is a military strategy that ignores the broader political situation which has been adversely impacted by Washington’s ‘border security forces’ announcement. Now the cards are on the table and all the main players can see what the US really has up its sleeve. Leaders in Syria, Iraq, Iran and particularly Turkey can see that Washington is not an honest broker, but a crafty and cold-blooded opportunist willing to throw even its allies under the bus to achieve its own narrow geopolitical objectives.

As a result, Erdogan has moved closer to Russia which has sent up red flags in Washington as one would expect. After all– in the broader scheme of things– Turkey is more important to the US than Ukraine. It is the essential landbridge and energy hub that is destined to bind Europe and Asia together into the world’s biggest free trade zone. If Turkey breaks out of Washington’s orbit and moves into Moscow’s camp, Washington’s plan to ‘pivot to Asia’ will collapse in a heap.

So while McMaster might think that forward deterrence will prevent Russia from achieving its objectives, it’s clear that the policy is already working in Putin’s favor. Every miscue that Washington makes only adds to Putin’s credibility and reputation as a reliable partner. Simply put: The Russian president is gradually replacing Washington as the guarantor of regional security. This is a tectonic development and one that US powerbrokers will definitely regret in the future.

A ‘changing of the guard’ is underway in the energy-rich Middle East, and Washington is the odd-man-out.

By Smirking Chimp