WASHINGTON DC – This week, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) meets with top White House officials, reports have surfaced that Syria will be a key part of foreign policy discussions between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
According to the Washington Post, President Trump – in a bid to remove the estimated 4,000 U.S. soldiers illegally stationed in Syria – has offered to remove U.S. troops from Syria’s occupied northeast if Saudi Arabia agrees to pay $4 billion to “rebuild” and “stabilize” the areas the U.S. coalition and its proxies took from Daesh (ISIS) last year.
As the Post noted, the plan is meant to allow Trump to minimize an overt U.S. military presence in the region while accomplishing his postwar goal “to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners from claiming the areas, or the Islamic State from regrouping.”
The Trump administration’s stated goals for America’s presence in Syria betrays the fact that the mission originally professed by the U.S. was the defeat of Daesh. As the threat posed by Daesh has all but passed, administration officials “have convinced Trump that the U.S. military cannot remove its troops from northern Syria in part because of Iran,” suggesting that the U.S. presence in Syria is now relegated to containing Iran as well as the long-standing goal of removing Syria’s president from power. The strategy of Iran containment through occupying Syria has been clear for some time and has been stated openly by U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the now former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Last September, Haley remarked, “the [U.S.] efforts in Syria have been remarkable. And I can tell you, Iran is not going to be in charge, and Iran is not going to have any sort of leadership in that situation to where they could do more harm.” She also stated that the U.S. is not “going to be satisfied until we see a strong and stable Syria. And that is not with Assad in place.”
Then, in January, Tillerson told an audience at Stanford University that only “the departure of Assad through the UN-led Geneva process will create the conditions for a durable peace within Syria and security along the borders” and that “US disengagement from Syria would provide Iran with the opportunity to further strengthen its own position in Syria.”
Given past statements of top officials in his administration and his often-stated desire to share the burden of nation-building with U.S. allies, Trump is now offering Saudi Arabia control of the Syrian territories the U.S. has illegally occupied, but at a hefty price.
According to U.S. officials cited by the Post, when Trump first floated this deal to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, it was positively received, leading the president to believe that “he had a deal” with the monarch which would keep Syria’s oil-rich northeast in the hands of U.S. allies and out of the hands of the Syrian government his administration seeks to topple.
However, Saudi officials have reportedly sought to lower the price and have questioned the $4 billion price tag, but not the deal itself. MBS’ meetings in Washington this week will likely reveal if Trump’s latest “deal” is a success.
Endgame: partition Syria
Though the U.S. attempts to involve Saudi Arabia in the “reconstruction” of Northeastern Syria are now getting public attention, they are not new. Last October, MintPress reported that Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – a project launched by the State Department in 2014 to ‘degrade and defeat ISIS’ – was negotiating with controversial Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan over Saudi funding for the reconstruction of Raqqa. Now, the plan for the city of Raqqa is now being touted as a solution for “reconstructing” the entire territory that the U.S. is occupying in Syria.
Furthermore, if the Saudis agree to the president’s latest deal, Raqqa, which was all but destroyed by the U.S.-backed effort to “liberate” it from Daesh, and the rest of U.S. occupied Syria will – perhaps ironically – be rebuilt by the very country that has long funded Daesh and is home to the extremist politically funded ideology of Wahhabism it was dedicated to spreading.
Indeed, as leaked emails show, the U.S. government has known for years that the Saudis, along with other Gulf monarchies, have consistently provided “clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [Daesh] and other radical Sunni groups in the region” as these groups seek to establish an “Islamic state” modeled after Wahhabi ideology, much like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself – a theocracy known for its persecution of religious minorities and its penchant for public beheadings.
The Saudi monarchy’s practice of persecuting religious minorities could spell disaster for those groups in Northeastern Syria that have already suffered greatly after Daesh. Though many of these minorities are no longer in the region as most were forced into refugee status or killed, it bodes a particularly unpleasant future for the Kurds, who are religiously diverse and are relatively supportive of gender equality in great contrast to Saudi Arabia. The Kurds’ alliance with the U.S. military is unlikely to aid them if Northeastern Syria comes under Saudi control as this alliance has done little to help the Kurds elsewhere in Syria, particularly in Afrin.
However, the U.S.’ goal in the region is not to ensure stability, democracy or any of the other humanitarian buzzwords frequently used to justify its military adventurism. Instead, passing the baton to the Saudis in Syria would further the goal of partitioning Syria along sectarian lines and would serve as a fountainhead of Wahhabi extremism in the future, key to destabilizing the Assad-led government and allies of the Syrian state, namely Lebanon’s resistance group Hezbollah and Iran.
Top Photo | Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq ISIS, during an update to the media, Friday, May 19, 2017, at the Pentagon. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.