Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations and one of the Trump administrations hawks, announced on Sunday that it had decided to shelve plans to pull US troops out of Syria. This means that it is changing current American policy, which had tacitly conceded defeat in Syria, and planning a new stage of escalation which could focus on overthrowing the regime.
US forces in Syria number some 2,000 personnel deployed east of the Euphrates in support of Kurdish Syrian Democratic Party (SDP) forces. The new plan may entail increasing the size of these forces, strengthening the US’ alliance with the Kurds, and pressing ahead with the promised establishment of an independent Kurdish entity in northeastern Syria, stretching from al-Hasaka and Qamishli to Ain al-Arab, al-Bab and Jarablus and possibly including Afrin.
Over the past seven years the US has spent tens of billions of dollars trying to get the regime overthrown without success, especially after the balance of power on the ground shifted to the advantage of its allies. What chance would a fresh attempt stand of succeeding now, given the Russian and Iranian presence in support of the regime?
These are signs of confusion and delusion, a futile attempt to achieve unattainable goals. But that does not make it any less alarming, given the scale of the death and destruction that could be inflicted on Syria in the process, especially with the cold war between the two superpowers heating up and the US poised to scrap the Iranian nuclear deal.
The US sent more than 170,000 troops to Iraq – not including the contractors, i.e. the mercenaries employed by companies such as Blackwater — but did not manage to prevail or withstand the human and material losses inflicted by resistance operations: some 5,000 killed and 30,000 injured, and costs amounting to trillions of dollars. So how can the 2,000 troops in Syria be expected to fare against the new resistance that is rapidly being formed to confront them?
The situation on the ground is continuing to turn fast in favour of the Syrian-Iranian-Russian-Lebanese (Hezbollah) axis. It has nothing to lose, and has acquired enormous combat experience of all types. The coming few months are likely to prove very difficult for the Americans, and very costly, not just in Syria but also in Iraq.
It would not be surprising if Israel and the various lobbies that support were behind this American strategic volte-face. For Israel is in a state of panic as a result of the collapse of its special relationship with Russia following its rid on the T-4 airbase and of the growing Iranian presence on the ground in Syria.
Which raises the question of who will be cover the costs of this American move? There are no prizes for guessing the answer: it has already been spelled out.