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SYRIA: Conversations with Camille Otrakji on Eastern Ghouta and the Future of the Region

Liberation of Eastern Ghouta from Islamist extremist occupation, by Syrian Arab Army and allies. (Photo: Twitter)

Vanessa Beeley and Camille Otrakji
21st Century Wire

Camille Otrakji is a modest and unassuming Syrian author and geopolitical analyst based in Montreal, Canada. He is not an excessively prominent public figure, instead Otrakji informs many and debates others from a position of knowledge and objectivity that is a rare find in today’s adversarial Syrian-conflict-discussion forums.

Otrakji has taken on the cunning of Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria and Free Sryian Army “death squad” manufacturer, and Otrakji has cut through the US state spin that Ford employs to obfuscate the US role in fomenting these regime change uprisings that have destabilized Iraq, Libya and many more nations that have found themselves in the neocon crosshairs.

“Syria and the Palestinians paid a heavy price for what the U.S. (and Sadat) did to them. Then in the 80′s the Reagan administration partnered with Saddam Hussein against Syria and Assad who warned them that Saddam is a dangerous man. And similarly the U.S. spent the next few decades siding with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel, or Egypt against Syria. Always valuing other countries over Syria. If the reader is interested in learning more, I wrote an expanded account of U.S. Syrian relations between 1967 and 2010 on SyriaComment.com: “The Case for Syria

The liberation of Eastern Ghouta, from a number of NATO member state and Gulf State financed and armed extremist groups that include Nusra Front, Ahrar Al Sham and Failaq Al Rahman, is imminent – I decided to ask Otrakji’s opinion of the current events and the effect they may have on the Syrian conflict in the future. I hope you will find Otrakji’s responses as useful as I have.

Vanessa Beeley: Alistair Crooke was recently interviewed by Peter Lavelle, for RT. Crooke describes the three wars (at least) that Syria is fighting alongside its allies. Turkey in the North West, US in North East and Israel in South. How do you think Syria will manage these three fronts, not forgetting Idlib also? 

Camille Otrakji: True that Israel’s air force attacked targets inside Syria dozens of times. The United States has an illegal military presence in Syria and “accidentally” killed Syrian soldiers on a number of occasions. Turkey’s army is bombing Syria’s Afrin on a daily basis.

But Syria and its allies are not, yet, fighting any of those wars, and hopefully they never will.

Members of the resistance axis tend to pursue their objectives through the path of … least resistance. In contrast to Saddam Hussein who opted to directly confront his powerful enemies (Iran, then the United States) but that did not end well.

Having said that, Syria and its allies are already fighting an indirect war against the international community’s latest coalition of the willing, named “the friends of Syria”. That path of least resistance is getting steeper and more dangerous with time as the regime-change camp continues to feel the need to “do something” when Syria and its allies score more military victories. Russia’s frequent use of its veto option at the UNSC left the west with no other option but to escalate militarily.

VB: How do you think Syria will be able to put pressure on US to withdraw its illegal occupation of 25% of Syrian territory.

CO: Syria is not in a hurry. The United States does not have territorial ambitions in Syria. Decision makers in Damascus will wait until the different power centers in the United States realize their military presence in Syria is not serving America’s national security objectives. There is more concern about Turkish presence in Syria as President Erdogan made it clear on numerous occasions that he is determined to reconstruct his Ottoman empire, which would start with his immediate neighbour to the south (Syria).

VB: If the US were to withdraw, what do you think the next move by separatist Kurds would be? Would they still demand some degree of autonomy, would President Assad negotiate with them?

CO: President Assad would always negotiate with Syria’s Kurdish communities. Sadly, the Kurds used, and got used by, everyone who is interested in playing a role in Syria. There will hopefully come a time when they realize that what Damascus is offering them is optimal.

Otherwise, the Kurdish dilemma might continue to be a source of destabilization in the Middle East, but more significantly, to Syria’s north. Turkey is a fragile country. Its Kurdish east is in conflict with both the Islamists and the nationalists, its liberals are increasingly feeling oppressed by the Islamists in power (indefinitely, it seems).

VB: What are Turkey’s long term plans or objectives in Syria? Do you think Turkish aggression in Afrin could have been prevented had the Kurds in Afrin handed territory back to the Syrian Arab Army prior to the Turkish attacks?

CO: In Afrin, President Erdogan is challenging both the kurds and the state in Syria. It appears that the strong leader of Turkey is assured that his remarkable success in building a coalition of the Islamists and the Turkish nationalists is the solid foundation he needs to take on the Kurds, then to start expanding Turkish (Ottoman) power to the south of his border. If his western allies do not manage to contain his ambitions, this will not end well.

VB: Do you have any insight into the current situation in Manbij and how it might tie into what is happening in Afrin?

CO: We need to wait and learn how the recent appointment of the new secretary of state might affect American / Turkish relations. Mr. Pompeo does not have favorable views of Turkey. He considers it as dangerous as Iran. The understanding between the United States and Turkey regarding the balance of power in Manbij might, or might not, be affected by the recent appointment in Washington DC.

VB: What will be the immediate effects of the liberation of Eastern Ghouta both on a domestic and international level?

CO: If the military balance continue to swing in favor of the Syrian government and its allies, a larger majority of the Syrian people will be in favor of ending the war and to declare the current government a winner. The United States would like to disrupt this trend and, in effect, to prolong the war. It will all depend on how much weight the United States decides to apply in Syria. They can ensure the fire continues to burn, if they wanted to. It is a mistake to underestimate America’s ability to extend hostilities. The Russians and the Syrians really prefer to see America co-sponsoring a final solution, but they are quite pessimistic as the signals from Washington are mostly negative.

VB: Do you consider that Syria is the battleground for  international power games and if so what is Russia’s endgame in the region? 

CO: Absolutely. The conflict in Syria has already changed the world. If a small percentage of Americans voted for President Trump because he wanted to stop accepting any Muslim refugees, it is because of the daily images of “moderate rebels” that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton financed, trained and armed. The fear of immigration was intensified by the Syrian conflict and its fall out, that affected the people of all the countries involved in maintaining the war against Syria.

Similarly, opinion polls show that the percentage of those who worried about immigration two years ago was much less than the numbers at the time of the Brexit vote, so the Syrian conflict also affected the Brexit vote in my opinion.

If a solution is not eventually reached, what is coming next, will not be as peaceful and humour-compatible as the Trump election and Brexit.

Russia wants the US to respect its national security. During the “Arab Spring” it became clear to the Russians that the US feels it has the ability to gain influence over successive countries through its constantly evolving soft power, hybrid war strategy.

Russia felt that if Syria were to fall, Iran would be next, followed by Russia and China. So, they decided to draw the line in Syria.

Washington’s soft power tactics were not successful. The natural progression from that failure was to arm local “rebels”. In Middle East terms this usually means Islamists and extremist groups. 

At that point, Russia became even more alarmed as the Islamist weapon had been used against it in the past. 

Russia is in Syria to adhere to international law and to maneuver the US into doing the same. Their goal is to reduce the power of the US multi-spectrum war apparatus and to defeat the Islamist proxy forces which are trying to destabilize Syria and its allies. 


Camille Otrakji can be followed at  his Facebook account, his Twitter account and his two websites, Creative Syria and Mideast Image

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




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