Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Kurdish Question

Syria's Kurds will adapt to an environment where nobody is trying to overthrow Assad.

What else are they to do?

A US-backed Kurdish-led alliance said on Saturday that it is seeking a roadmap for a decentralised Syria in talks with the government which opened in Damascus this week.

The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, which controls a swathe of the north and northeast, said it had agreed with the government to form joint committees to discuss the major issues after a first round of talks on Thursday and Friday.

I've warned that defeating ISIL simply put off the day about whether we abandon the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurds. Do we abandon them to the mercies of Assad?

If so, the Kurds would cut a deal with Assad if they could, I figured.

Yet even if America wanted to follow up the defeat of the ISIL caliphate in Syria with regime change against Assad, I warned that the Kurds would not lead the march on Damascus.

And since we failed in the period of 2014 to today to build up a real non-jihadi Syrian Arab foe of Assad to replace ISIL once defeated, how could we defeat Assad backed by Iran and Russia?

Yet the Kurds risk that a deal with Assad will--like many other ceasefire deals with rebels--simply allow Assad to defeat higher priority targets until Assad can get around to the Kurds.

And it isn't just the Idlib-based rebels Assad needs to control. It is possible Assad needs to bring under firm control the pro-Assad commanders. Are they still virtual fiefdoms that may resist direct control from Assad?

I still don't think we should trust Assad to control eastern Syria where he could resume his funneling of jihadis into Iraq to destabilize that country as Assad long did back to the days of Saddam (who used them for his Saddam's Fedayeen irregular regime enforcers.

Given Assad's problem with jihadis, it would make sense to send them on their way to Iraq both to get rid of them at home and to get revenge on America by destabilizing Iraq so it can't settle into a US ally role. By destabilizing Iraq, Iran has more opportunities to build up their own armed faction inside Iraq to make Iraq a new Lebanon where Iran's Hezbollah has veto power over Lebanon.

So yeah, Syria's Kurds will cut a deal with Assad. And if they do, I don't know how we hold our positions along the Deconfliction Line along the Euphrates River, especially the American base at Tanf:

The U.S. base near southern Syria’s al-Tanf border crossing was set up to train local Syrians to fight Islamic State militants, but it also serves as a counterweight to Iranian activities in the war-torn country, U.S. officials and experts tell VOA. ...

Jordan, Iraq, and Syria all meet in the area surrounding the U.S. base, a potential space, officials say, through which Iran could create a continuous land bridge that would stretch to the Mediterranean.

But the U.S. has established a so-called “deconfliction zone” in the area that spans about 55 kilometers around the base. The zone is meant to protect the United States and its allies as they battle the Islamic State militant group, and it essentially prevents any non-U.S. ally from entering the area.

Unless the Kurds get a better deal than one they can forge with Assad to return to formal Assad control (with substantial autonomy) because Russia decides that it would rather contain Assad to the west to avoid destabilizing adventures in Iraq (and to cut off Iran's land line of supply that might run from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria) by agreeing to a de facto partition of Syria, we'd have to get out or be the constant focus of Syrian, Iranian, and Russian efforts to destroy the base and drive our forces out.

As an aside, I'm not sure our relations with Turkey under Erdogan can be salvaged by throwing Syria's Kurds under the bus.

UPDATE: Can Assad, who has secured core Syria in the west, regain all of Syria?

President Bashar al-Assad's path to a final victory in the war in Syria is strewn with diplomatic landmines that will complicate his attempt to recover "every inch" of the country and may leave big areas out of his grasp indefinitely.

And that's a separate issue of how much control Assad has inside the core Syria he has. Do subordinates rule while Assad reigns; and does Iran and their proxies represent areas outside of Assad's reach despite the victory?