This article echoes what the most knowledgeable people I know are saying – that all the saber-rattling at Doha’s recent ‘Friends of Syria’ gathering was just a lot of noise.
The US can’t afford to arm the Syrian rebels – either politically or financially. The complication with Afghanistan that Sharmine Narwani details below had not occurred to me, but even if it’s a decisive factor, it’s certainly not the only sufficient one.
The US’s Afghan Exit May Depend on a Syrian One
By Sharmine Narwani
Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.
Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.
Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.
But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.
Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.
The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Help, we can’t get out”
There are around 750,000 major pieces of American military hardware costing approximately $36 billion sitting in Afghanistan right now. The cost of transporting this equipment out of the country is somewhere close to the $7 billion mark. It would be easier to destroy this stuff than removing it, but given tightening US budgets and lousy economic prospects, this hardware is unlikely to be replaced if lost.
Getting all this equipment into Afghanistan over the past decade was a lot easier than getting it out will be. For starters, much of it came via Pakistani corridors – before Americans began droning the hell out of that country and creating dangerous pockets of insurgents now blocking exit routes.
An alternative supply route through Afghan border states Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan called the Northern Distribution Network was set up in 2009, but is costlier and longer than going via Pakistan. And human rights disputes, onerous conditions on transport and unpredictable domestic sentiment toward the Americans places far too much leverage over these routes in the hands of regional hegemon Russia.
Unlike Iraq, where the US could count on its control over the main ports and Arab allies along the Persian Gulf border, Afghanistan is landlocked, mountainous and surrounded by countries and entities now either hostile to US interests or open to striking deals with American foes.
In short, a smooth US exit from Afghanistan may be entirely dependent on one thing: the assistance of Russia, Iran, and to a lesser degree, China.
All three countries are up against the US and its allies in Syria, refusing, for the better part of 18 months, to allow regime-change or a further escalation of hostilities against the state.
In the past few months, the Russian and Iranian positions have gained strength as the Syrian army – with assistance from its allies – pushed back rebel militias in key towns and provinces throughout the country.
Western allies quickly rushed to change the unfavorable equilibrium on the ground in advance of political talks in Geneva, unashamedly choosing to further weaponize the deadly conflict in order to gain “leverage” at the negotiating table.
But none of that has materialized. As evidence, look to the recent G8 Summit where western leaders sought to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “isolated” and referring to the Summit as “G7+1.”
In the meeting’s final communiqué, Putin won handily on every single Syria point. Not only was it clear that the international community’s only next “play” was the negotiations in Geneva, but there was no mention of excluding President Bashar al-Assad from a future Syrian transitional government, once a key demand of opponents. Furthermore, the declaration made it clear that there was no evidence linking chemical weapons use to the Syrian government – had there been any “evidence” whatsoever, it would have made it to paper – and Syrian security forces were empowered, even encouraged, to weed out extremist militias by all the G8 nations.
This was not an insignificant victory for the Russians – it was the first public revelation that Washington, London and Paris have conceded their advantage in Syria. And it begs the question: what cards do the Russians hold in their hand to bring about this kind of stunning reversal, just a week after Washington came out guns blazing?
read the rest of this article here.