Trump’s Syria ‘withdrawal plan’ is subcontracting the US’ dirty work

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
Trump’s Syria ‘withdrawal plan’ is subcontracting the US’ dirty work
US President Donald Trump is talking about bringing troops home from Syria. But the plan is not about dialing down American military interests in the region. It’s about subcontracting the dirty work of US imperialism.

Far from reducing American wars in the Middle East – the supposed withdrawal move spells more conflict, not less.

There seems to be a common misconception that Trump is somehow fulfilling his campaign pledge to close down overseas interventions and bring US troops home.

Ahead of his state visit Monday to the US, French President Emmanuel Macron told Fox News in an interview that he is urging Trump to maintain the American troop presence in Syria. Macron warned that any exit of US military forces would be taken advantage of by the Syrian and Iranian “regimes.” By implication, the French leader included Russia in his rogue’s gallery.

We will have to build a new Syria after the war. And that’s why the US role is very important,” Macron said.

But Trump is not signaling the end of American involvement in Syria. What he is planning is a new division of labor and capital in the pursuit of strategic goals.

When the president fired up a rally of his supporters in Ohio at the end of March he said: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let other people take care of it now.

Then on April 13, when announcing the US-led air strikes on Syria over an alleged chemical-weapons attack, Trump again hinted at eventually taking American forces out. He said: “We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing large amounts of money.”

The concern of some within the American political and military establishment, as well as foreign allies like France’s Macron, is misplaced. Trump is not scaling back Washington’s involvement. He is instead seeking to outsource the military dirty work.

That plays well for Trump from a political point of view. It looks as if he is delivering on his “America First” agenda to his voter base. It also gives the chance for the US to wash its hands of bloody conflict.

In reality, however, Washington is pursuing its same hegemonic and destabilizing ambitions in the oil-rich Middle East, such as regime change in Syria, confronting Iran, and containing Russia.

Last week, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir confirmed his country was in talks with Trump administration officials about sending Saudi troops to Syria as part of “an international coalition” to replace the contingent of American troops present there. What the Saudi diplomat was referring to was Gulf Arab states and possibly Egypt forming an expeditionary force for Syria.

There were also reports of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA, a private mercenary firm, being lobbied by Gulf Arab states to recruit a similar force for deployment to Syria. Prince, who is known to be on good terms with Trump, said he is waiting for the president’s decision. He has also worked previously with the Saudis and Emiratis in supplying mercenary battalions to fight in Yemen against the Houthi rebels. 

The idea of a Saudi-led Arab expeditionary force to Syria is not new. During the Obama administration, the Saudi rulers lobbied for such a deployment, to no avail. Though, under Trump they may have a willing president.

Trump has long been exasperated by the financial cost of America’s military footprint in Syria, consisting of 2,000-4,000 troops mainly based in northeastern areas of the country. American warplanes have been flying offensive sorties over Syria since September 2014.

What seems to be primarily motivating Trump’s calculations is a cost-cutting measure of getting others to pay. A fitting move for the real-estate-tycoon-turned-president whose private business model is all about outsourcing and subcontracting to trim costs.

In his pitch for the security contract in Syria, Erik Prince claimed that such an arrangement would bring zero cost to the US taxpayer. That suggests that the Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari rulers are being lined up to foot the bill for privatizing US military operations in Syria.

On a superficial level, it may seem like a smart idea, albeit unscrupulous. But at a more practical level, it seems doomed to fail. It is not hard to envisage how the shifting of military roles will only lead to greater instability and violence, not just in Syria but across the region.

Saudi troops being sent into Syria along with Emirati and Qatari forces will see them run up against the Syrian Army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies. The Wahhabi mentality of the Gulf Arab rulers is such that Syria and its Shia allies are viewed as mortal enemies. The proximity of these forces in Syria would be explosive, resulting in Saudi Arabia and Iran finally going head-to-head in a long-anticipated war. The latter would no doubt draw in Israel on the Saudi side.

In any case, given the ongoing disastrous war in Yemen for the Saudis and their Gulf cronies, it seems out of the question that they could mobilize a force for Syria.

That begs the question of Erik Prince and his mercenaries being deployed to replace regular American forces, with the Gulf Arab regimes bankrolling the operation.

The purpose of any such deployment is in complete violation of Syrian sovereignty. Far from the advertised objectives of “security” and “preventing the return of ISIS,” the real goal is to hold on to US-occupied territory around the Euphrates River and the oilfields in Syria’s eastern provinces.

Whatever the precise composition of this new American substitute force in Syria, the Wall Street Journal quoted an analyst from the Brooking Institution think tank as saying: “It has to be strong enough to face down Assad or Iran if either seeks to reclaim territory, perhaps with Russia’s help.”

That means that US military forces will have to be retained in Syria. The boots on the ground may no longer be regular American troops, but the US will still have to provide support with warplanes and military advisers to make its surrogates effective for occupying Syrian territory.

If Washington planners want to maintain their foothold in Syria and contain Russian and Iranian influence in the region, then that objective will sooner or later result in a military confrontation. It seems implausible that the Syrian government, having won the war against foreign-backed militants, would tolerate a post-war occupation of its territory by the US and its surrogates.

American political analyst Randy Martin sees the latest Trump plans for the supposed withdrawal of troops as nothing more than a tactical shift. “The calling up of Arab forces or private mercenaries marks a change in contractors, that’s all,” says Martin in an interview for this column.

We have seen the defeat of the Al Qaeda brigades by Syria, Russian and Iran. Now the US is turning to new contractors in its long war for regime change in Syria and confrontation with Iran,” he added.

Thus, Trump’s putative drawdown of the US military contingent in Syria is not a move for peace. It’s a shift in gear towards more war.

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