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Have the US, Trump Really Abandoned ‘Regime Change’ in Syria?

Member of the US-backed Free Syrian Army, Aleppo, Syria. (Photo: Mada Media. Source: Wikicommons)

Miles Elliott
21st Century Wire

For the past few days, news outlets have been reporting on the Trump Administration and CIA’s announcement to end the controversial covert program to arm and train ‘moderate rebels’ fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad. While many who want peace in Syria see this move as a step in the right direction, others still doubt that the underlying goal of ousting Assad has been abandoned completely. The decision may serve a number of purposes, but the long-term goals of the US and its close coalition allies do not change easily, and removing President Assad from power has been a centerpiece of their regional restructuring plan for a very long time.

Does the announcement really mean that Trump is going to leave Assad alone? Is the US turning a corner in Syria and finally learning from the mistakes it made in Iraq and Libya? Is it really a concession to Russia? Is Trump finally actualizing his campaign rhetoric that seemed to reject America’s foreign wars?

Not likely.

Of course, it’s possible that Trump is at odds with other factions in the US government’s military and foreign policy establishment, possibly because he recognizes the danger of arming terrorists and the political damage this might do to his own reputation as a leader who is ‘tough on terror.’ Such a belief however, might be extremely generous to Trump, especially considering how under his authority the US military has dangerously escalated several wars, not just in Syria, but also in Yemen, and probably soon in Afghanistan.

A more likely explanation is that the Trump administration and a complicit mainstream media are trying to manage public perceptions regarding six years of troublesome US involvement in Syria. In a bait-and-switch type PR deception, Washington might be attempting to generate the perception of de-escalation even as the US increases its presence in Syria.

Consider the Source

Within hours of this story breaking, it had been covered by major outlets from across the mainstream media, and since that time there have been a variety of reactions from different commentators and media platforms.

Some, such as former US diplomat Jim Jatras, are hailing the decision as a ‘game-changer’.

Others, like New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof (one of the first in the mainstream media to promote the White Helmets) called it a “major gift to Russia“.

Middle East ‘expert’ Charles Lister claims it will strengthen terrorists in Syria, while numerous others are saying it will weaken the terrorists.

Many of these reactions, however, as well as all of the reporting on this decision, all seem to stem from a single story in The Washington Post. That said, there are a few things that should be pointed out about this original story…

Washington Post and the CIA

It is well known that Amazon chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. It is also public knowledge that the CIA has a contract with Amazon to use its cloud computing services. In fact, beginning in 2014 Amazon began providing its services to the CIA under a $600 million contract that is good for up to ten years, making the CIA a long-term customer of Amazon. Seeing as the owner of The Washington Post has a long-term commercial relationship with the CIA, any reporting from that newspaper covering CIA activities could be viewed as a potential conflict of interest. This would be a very unpopular position for any mainstream media outlets to take. Normally, these outlets will unquestioningly repeat this or any story by The Post concerning the CIA, and that’s the end of that.

NOTE: After this article was published at 21WIRE, Trump came out swinging at Bezos and the ‘Amazon-Washington Post’:

Of course this is not to say that the decision to end CIA support to terrorists in Syria has not been taken. Much of that activity will remain classified and certainly redacted if ever released. However, the fact that information was ‘leaked exclusively’ to the Washington Post by unnamed US officials may indicate a desire to have the story spun in a particular way for particular reasons.

Syrian ‘rebels’ fire missiles toward the towns of Kafarya and Foua (Photo: Qasioun News Agency. Source: Wikicommons)

Focus on Russia

A major element of the spin on the The Washington Post story can be found in the headline: “Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow” (emphasis added). From the outset, the Post is portraying the decision to stop arming groups trying to overthrow the Syrian government as a concession to Russia.

This is clearly one of the themes of the article, as it also appears in quotes from an unnamed official who said, “Putin won in Syria”, and from Charles Lister, who stated: “We are falling into a Russian trap.” In total, Russia, Moscow, Putin or the Kremlin are mentioned no less than 20 times in the article, a clear sign of The Post‘s attempt to place Trump’s decision in the context of Russian interests in Syria.

There are several obvious problems with this narrative, however.

Firstly, it is implied that if Russia ‘wins’ in Syria, that America somehow ‘loses’ – but is that really the case? One of the points Trump campaigned on is that US and Russian interests in Syria are actually aligned in the wider fight to defeat ISIS and radical Islamist terror.

Secondly, there is zero evidence to indicate that the decision to end CIA support for terrorist groups in Syria was driven by Russia – but that hasn’t stopped many in the mainstream media, like New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, and Washington establishment figures like John McCain, for inferring a Russian conspiracy is at play. It is true that The Post‘s article was published within two weeks of the recent ceasefire in southwestern Syria agreed by the US, Russia and Jordan. On the other hand, it is acknowledged that the decision to halt the ‘train and equip’ program in Syria was made a month ago, after a White House meeting between Trump, national security advisor H R McMaster, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

At most, leaking the story to the press may have been an empty gesture toward Russia, but facts on the ground still indicate that the conflict in Syria is being escalated in other ways, as we shall see. Independent journalist Gareth Porter offers this analysis:

“By 2016, when the Syrian government, with the support of the Russians and Iranians and others, were able to push the al-Qaeda-led rebels out of Aleppo, really the major part of the conflict between the rebels and the Assad government was completed. And from then on I think the fate of this program was really sealed…

The decision to announce this clearly followed the agreement that was reached very recently with the Russians on a ceasefire in southern Syria… And so to announce it was a gesture in part towards the Russians, but the idea that has been reported in some news media that somehow this is a concession to the Russians is totally false. That really doesn’t follow logically, in terms of the nature of the decision and the timing of it.”

Furthermore, to believe the decision is a ‘gift’ to Russia is to completely discount the fact that arming terrorists is simply wrong, or at the very least dangerous. As former US diplomat Jim Jatras stated:

“It doesn’t occur to some people that not supporting terrorists is the right thing for America, having nothing to do with Russia.”

Thirdly, in light of the year-long string of unsubstantiated and unproven accusations perpetuated by US mainstream media that somehow the Trump team ‘colluded’ with Russia to affect the outcome of the US presidential election, pushing the Russian angle to this story in Syria appears to be an attempt to add fuel to that fire. However, if one unpacks the rationale underlying this suggestion, it becomes clear how illogical it really is.

As it turns out, even US commanders do not subscribe to the Russian conspiracy theory angle regarding the CIA stopping arms to ‘rebels’ in Syria. This was confirmed by U.S. Army General Raymond Thomas, head of Special Operations Command, who told the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado the following this past week:

“At least from what I know about that program and the decision to end it, (it was) absolutely not a sop to the Russians.”

If mainstream media institutions like The Post object to alleged Russian interference in US elections, they presumably do so on the grounds that foreign interference in a sovereign country’s domestic affairs is ‘against the rules’ of the international community. If that is the case, then surely they must also object to the funding and arming of terrorist or ‘rebel’ groups by one country to overthrow the government of another. If The Post were being consistent, and not hypocritical in their editorial line, then any disapproval at the unsubstantiated allegation that Russia interfered – nonviolently – with America’s democracy, should be matched by unbridled outrage at the US funding, training and arming terrorists in Syria to violently overthrow its government.

Free Syrian Army vehicle equipped with anti-aircraft weapon. (Photo: Qasioun News Agency. Source: Wikicommons)

At the root of all three of these problems with this article and its paper’s stance toward Russia is the belief in American exceptionalism – which is particularly strong in the US ‘defense’ establishment and which is what gives the US license to break the very same rules that it enforces on other countries.

The idea of American exceptionalism was explicitly countered by Vladimir Putin in his editorial for the New York Times (published after the 2013 chemical weapons incident in Ghouta when the US was on the brink of going to war in Syria) in which he stated:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Goodbye CIA, Hello Pentagon

American exceptionalism taken to its logical conclusion has also resulted in the doctrine of ‘full spectrum dominance‘. In the current era of full-spectrum or hybrid warfare, there are many tools in the US government’s belt. So even as this particular CIA program ends, there are myriad ways in which the US might continue its involvement in the destablization and possible dismembering of the Syrian nation-state.

The most obvious is that the Pentagon and US military are expanding their presence in Syria. The Post states that the US military’s anti-ISIS air campaign will continue, as will the Pentagon’s ‘train-and-equip’ program for the primarily Kurdish militias operating around Raqqa.

However, The Post completely fails to mention the presence of American and allied troops on the ground in Syria. Last month 21WIRE warned of the danger of escalation from the presence of US and British troops stationed near al-Tanf in the southeast of Syria. Since then the buildup has continued, and within the past few weeks 21WIRE reported on the series of eight US military bases established inside Syrian borders, complete with heavy weapons such as the HIMARS rocket system.

Gareth Porter summarized it this way:

“The United States has created this alleged stake in the conflict in Syria over the last few years, over the ISIS presence in Raqqa and surrounding areas. Once the US began its bombing program both in Iraq and in Syria against ISIS, that created a whole set of new dynamics which inevitably in the nature of the US political-military-intelligence complex, created a constant forward movement of military and intelligence activities…

“We have now more US military personnel in the area near Raqqa than ever before, we have more special forces there, we have more helicopters, we have more CIA people. In other words they’ve created an entirely new dynamic here that is going to be very difficult to break. It’s going to be very difficult to reverse it.”

Within the past few days it has also been reported that significant numbers of US military armored vehicles are arriving in areas to the north of Raqqa, not for use by Kurdish SDF fighters in the region but – according to a US spokesperson – “for use by the Coalition”.

There is also the question of other countries funneling weapons and/or terrorists into Syria. In particular, American allies Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia have all played important roles in building up and perpetuating the conflict in Syria so far, and there is no reason to believe that they will cease doing so.

For instance, Syrian news agency SANA frequently reports on seizures of Israeli-made weapons within Syrian borders. Another example can be found in a previous story broken by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, in which she discovered ships were being used for transporting weapons into Syria via Saudi Arabian ports.

So it is possible that whatever support is being withdrawn from terrorist factions in Syria could be redirected through cooperating countries or other conduits and still reach the same destination.

Truth vs Narrative

It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. As regular readers of 21WIRE will already be aware, the levels of propaganda and deception in mainstream media narratives have reached new heights in coverage of the conflict in Syria. Even terms such as ‘moderate rebel’ and ‘Assad regime’ in common usage used by The Post and its ilk are tools of propaganda explicitily designed to legitimize the construction of a foreign-funded mercenary force to overthrow the government of Syria.

The truth, however, is rising.

For instance, the recent article, How America Armed Terrorists in Syria, spelled out just that:

“By helping its Sunni allies provide weapons to al Nusra Front and its allies and by funneling into the war zone sophisticated weapons that were bound to fall into al Nusra hands or strengthen their overall military position, U.S. policy has been largely responsible for having extended al Qaeda’s power across a significant part of Syrian territory. The CIA and the Pentagon appear to be ready to tolerate such a betrayal of America’s stated counter-terrorism mission. Unless either Congress or the White House confronts that betrayal explicitly, as Tulsi Gabbard’s legislation would force them to do, U.S. policy will continue to be complicit in the consolidation of power by al Qaeda in Syria, even if the Islamic State is defeated there.”

So not only are the ‘rebels’ not moderate, in many cases they are actually al Qaeda, the raison d’etre for the War on Terror.

Public awareness of this fact has been increasing, and in January Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act into the House of Representatives, while Senator Rand Paul, who has opposed the arming of Syrian opposition groups for years, introduced the bill in the Senate. On introducing the bill Rep. Gabbard’s remarks included the statement:

“If you or I gave money, weapons or support to Al-Qaeda or ISIS, we would be thrown in jail. Yet the US government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of Al-Qaeda, ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al Sham and other terrorist groups with money, weapons, and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.”

Then, within the past two weeks, 21WIRE covered the latest stunning chapter in a story broken by independent journalist Gaytandzhieva, which documents in full detail how hundreds of tons of heavy weapons were trafficked via protected diplomatic flights from various NATO member states and allies (including the US) to conflict zones around the the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Some of these arms ended up in the hands of al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.

Stories like those on covert weapons shipments; statements like the one above from Tulsi Gabbard; the introduction of the Stop Arming Terrorists Act; stories such as How America Armed Terrorists in Syria; and the rising influence of independent media outlets like 21WIRE among others, are all contributing to the rising awareness that the US government has been funding, training and arming terrorists in Syria.

It is likely that Trump’s decision to end the CIA program supporting the anti-Assad terrorists in Syria – however meaningful it was or was not – was in part a response to this growing awareness.


Although on the surface the decision by Trump seems to be a positive step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria, by no means does it mean an end to the conflict or even a withdrawal of US or other foreign interference with Syrian affairs. It is more likely that this announcement is yet another distraction – a further exercise in perception management – and that the objective to remove Assad remains in place under other guises using other means.

More on this from The Washington Post…

A unit of the Southern Front, which received money and weapons from the US, et al. (Photo: Mutasim Billah Brigade, Daraa. Source: Wikicommons)

Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous
The Washington Post

President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

Just three months ago, after the United States accused Assad of using chemical weapons, Trump launched retaliatory airstrikes against a Syrian air base. At the time, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said that “in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

Continue this story at The Washington Post

READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Syria Files




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