With Syrian peace talks in Geneva underway, how serious is Trump in combatting terrorism?

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
With Syrian peace talks in Geneva underway, how serious is Trump in combatting terrorism?
The timing of the CIA’s decision to cease its funding of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is significant. With the Geneva peace talks now underway, it suggests that, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump may be serious about combatting terrorism.

Throughout the conflict in Syria, which has been raging now for six years, Washington’s position has lacked clarity, intelligence, or any serious moral purpose. Instead, the Obama administration went out of its way to muddy the waters, embracing the nonsensical position of combatting both terrorism and those fighting terrorism at the same time. The CIA’s role in funding, arming, and training the FSA, the so-called moderate rebels, only succeeded in helping to prolong the conflict and, with it, the suffering of the Syrian people – half of whom are currently displaced both internally and externally, while well over 300,000 have perished.

In the process, Obama and his supporters sought to draw a moral equivalence between a government fighting to preserve Syria as a non-sectarian, multi-religious, and multicultural secular state in which the rights of minorities and women are protected, and those intent on turning the clock back to the seventh century in the service of religious extremism, sectarianism, and obscurantism.

On the Free Syrian Army (FSA) specifically, as far back as October 2015, veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk was writing that “the FSA fell to pieces, corrupted, and the ‘moderates’ defected all over again, this time to the Islamist Nusra Front or to ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL], selling their American-supplied weapons to the highest bidder or merely retiring quietly – and wisely – to the countryside, where they maintained a few scattered checkpoints.

Even before that, in April of 2015, Erin Banco penned an article that appeared on the website of the IB Times with the self-explanatory title, ‘Four Years Later, The Free Syrian Army Has Collapsed’. In her piece, she writes, “The emergence of the better-armed, ruthless Islamic State group on the battlefield in Syria last year marked the beginning of the end for the opposition groups the US dubbed the ‘moderate rebels.’ Now, the men and women who sparked the revolution by demonstrating in the streets of Dara’a in March of 2011 have fled, and the groups of men who took up what arms they could find to fight Assad’s military and eventually became the FSA have dissipated.”

The point is that the FSA long ago ceased to exist as anything other than a propaganda prop by Western governments, led by Washington, whose objective was regime change in Damascus, regardless of the fact that, if successful, such an eventuality would only have paved the way for ISIS or Nusra to assume power, with all of the ensuing catastrophic consequences involved. This is why, on this one foreign policy position alone, Obama and the Western liberal interventionist cohort he led can never be forgiven. For such people “destroying the village in order to save it” was to be Syria’s fate, conforming to a pattern of destroying one country after another, while proclaiming themselves champions of democracy and human rights.

Though it remains too soon to make a considered judgment on Trump’s presidency, what with the 45th President currently under siege from within Washington, and what with the mixed and incoherent messages that have emanated from his administration over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the status of Crimea, and belligerence when it comes to Iran, despite Tehran standing as a pillar of opposition to terrorism in the region, there are grounds for optimism over Syria. We see this also with an increase in US commitment to defeating ISIS in Iraq, where the battle to liberate Mosul is still ongoing.

While the opposition could rely on the continuing support of the US and its regional allies, it was able to adopt a rejectionist position during previous attempts to resolve the conflict and crisis at the negotiating table. Demanding that President Assad step down as a precondition of a negotiated settlement, despite being too weak on the ground to win a military victory, the opposition was able to use Washington as leverage against Russia’s attempts to find a diplomatic solution.

But now, with the announcement that the CIA has decided to cease channeling funds and support to the FSA, the opposition will no longer have that option open to it, thus making the prospects of meaningful progress being made in Geneva this time round more realistic than at any other point hitherto.

That said, in Syria – where, in alliance with the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) predominately made up of Syrian Kurds, an assault on Raqqa appears imminent – the continuing US military presence still gives cause for concern. Without the cooperation or consent of the Syrian government, US military operations in the country are a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

There is also the question of those aforementioned US regional allies to be considered. The Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis have each played a malign and mendacious part in funding and supporting various Salafi-jihadist groups in Syria, which remain a potent threat, despite the recent progress that’s been made by the Syrian Army and its allies on the ground. This is why serious pressure must be brought to bear by President Trump against Washington’s Gulf State allies to force them to turn off the tap.

All in all, there will be much to discuss and thrash out in Geneva between all parties concerned. It promises to reveal Trump’s intentions not only when it comes to fighting terrorism, but, just as crucially, when it comes to regime change. If serious about returning stability to the region, the days of Western regime change must end.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.