US Pursuing Scorched-Earth Policy in Syria: Analyst (+Video)
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A senior geopolitical analyst based in California highlighted reasons behind the US administration’s recent decision to withdraw all its troops from Syria and said Washington, which has lost the conflict in the Arab country, has been pursuing “a scorched-earth policy” there.
“Personally, I think when Washington realized that they have lost this conflict in Syria, they had a scorched-earth policy,” Alexander Azadgan said in an interview with Tasnim News Agency.
“They (Americans) want to make sure the country is destroyed as much as possible in all the inner fighting between various groups and the Syrian Arab Republic…,” he added.
“They cut their losses early,” the analyst said, adding, “They are going to be present in the region especially in Syria and northern Iraq.”
Alexander Azadgan is a multi-awarded professor of Strategic Global Management & International Political Economy. Azadgan is also a senior fellow with several cutting-edge Iranian think-tanks as well as a regular contributor to Russia’s Katehon think-tank. He also makes regular TV and radio appearances, commenting on various socio-economic, international relations, and geopolitical issues.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: As you know, US President Donald Trump has recently decided to withdraw all US troops from Syria. Given that Trump is a businessman and thinks only about profit, what are the reasons behind this decision? What do you think about the possibility of the total withdrawal? Would he keep US strongholds in Syria?
Azadgan: This is a very interesting question. President Trump openly expressed his opposition to the wars that have been raging in the Middle East since 2003 especially in 2011 because of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia and basically engulfed entire Middle East region more or less. I think Mr. Trump is looking at the situation from a cost-benefit analysis. I do not trust his sincerity. This war has been an illegal war. As far as our presence in Syria, they're saying around 2,000 soldiers. What was always very interesting to us and quite disturbing is that the last strongholds of the terrorists, ISIS, al-Nusra, all these groups, al-Sham this, al-Sham that, they were mostly in the areas that Washington had its bases, east of the Euphrates among other places. So, on Donald Trump's withdrawal from Syria at least the pretension that he's going to withdraw, I think they created this mess not entirely we have to be fair and balanced here if the destabilization efforts in Syria as a result of the so-called Arab Spring were better handled by the legitimate government in Damascus, perhaps some of these problems would not have degenerated to the level that they are now but keep in mind the entirely destabilization of Syria was with the aim to cut Iran from its ally, Lebanon, at least the Lebanese Hezbollah and after that Iran was going to be the target. So, I don't personally believe there will be a total withdrawal from Syria. I think Special Forces will be there the most elite. I think this, as I mentioned, is a completely illegal war in this country. We still have a constitution and wars cannot be waged simply by an executive action by the president. It has to go through appropriate channels in our Congress and this really never happened. As far as whether Washington is going to hold on to his strongholds in Syria, I think this war was created to first of all bolster terrorists you know there. If you recall, ISIS actually was unleashed in Raqqa in northern Syria very close to the Euphrates River also close to the Turkish border and I think the intention was to create a quagmire and a situation where Iran would bleed all his resources financially and otherwise as far as military advisors and so forth and so on and also to get Russia stuck in this situation that was more or less put together at that time by the coalition of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and to some extent Jordan and some of these other (P)GCC countries, UAE comes to mind as well. The intent was a scorched-earth policy to make sure there's as much maximum damage to the Syrian infrastructure and they have managed to actually do that. So in that sense, it is a hollow victory in my opinion even though Trump pretends to take the US soldiers out of there.
Tasnim: Trump’s withdrawal plan has been met with widespread opposition inside and outside the US. France's President Emmanuel Macron has said he deeply regrets the controversial decision. “An ally must be dependable,” said Macron, who reportedly called Trump to warn him against the plan. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the US envoy to the global coalition fighting the Daesh terrorist group, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest over Trump’s decision. In your opinion, why is Trump insisting on his decision?
Azadgan: Unfortunately, our colleagues in France have been playing a very destructive role in Syria among some other countries in Europe and this idea of the federalization of the entire Middle East is not a joke. We believe they started this effort in 2003 when they wanted to federalize Iraq and to some extent with northern Iraq. The so-called Iraqi Kurdistan is the de facto federalization of that country but since they failed there, miserably to some extent, they wanted to implement that plan in Syria. As far as many of these people being disappointed, that is not a surprise to us. France, if you recall, was the colonial power after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and Syria and Lebanon were handed over to them and a lot of these countries in the Middle East except for Turkey and Iran were artificially created. Having said that, coming up with a new map and the federalization plan for all sorts of reasons, geopolitical, geo-economic, energy, ethnicity, religious divide lines. I think that plan to federalize the Middle East is completely futile. It is counterproductive and it's going to drag the region into a terrible prolonged perpetual war. As far as the question that US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the US envoy to the global coalition fighting the ISIS terrorist group, Brett McGurk, resigning to protest Trump's decision and what is my opinion on this? Many people used to look at General Mattis as the last adult in this administration and some could argue that he was after the firing of Rex Tillerson but I think if you listen to Mattis' rhetoric and the role he played in Iraq, of course, he is a soldier's soldier, of course, he is a Marine's Marine. He put himself in the front line with his soldiers, with his battalions but he's also the person who said it is fun to shoot people. Let's not forget that and the reason he resigned as Secretary of Defense was that they believed in a prolonged war in Syria that they would spread to all these other countries around Syria. So it was not a benign resignation. In my opinion, Mr. Trump actually followed through. If you actually take him at his word and believe he was not insincere about the US withdrawal and this is actually going to be a long-term policy and that there will be no shifting, no revision of this policy and that the US would symbolically get out of Syria, I think in that sense, it was the right decision by President Trump and we haven't had any president since Ronald Reagan who withdrew from Lebanon after the bombing of the US Marines' barracks over there. So in that sense, I think it was a very risky decision. I am not one of those people who believe that because we left Syria, al-Qaeda is going to take over. This was the argument that if we leave Iraq, al-Qaeda was going to take over and they want to justify that sort of illogical mindset by actually creating and supporting these Wahhabi groups across the Middle East but especially in Iraq and Syria in order to justify the fact that they need to come back. In my opinion, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra - ISIS whatever you want to call them, ISIL, their survival in Syria would be minimal. Russia has always had the naval base in Latakia. Iranian advisors, I don't think, are going to go anywhere from the information we have. Some speculate that Iran has 10 military bases in Syria and I don't think after all the blood and toil that the Iranians dedicated in this terrible conflict that they're going to go anywhere even though the Iranians are cash-strapped and the weight of the draconian sanctions by Mr. Trump is weighing heavy on them. Their economy is imploding from inside and there are all sorts of social political and economic unrest within Iran but as far as Syria goes, even though it's maybe premature to say that a victory for what they call the Axis of Resistance, Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russia. So in that sense, we could say that President Trump's decision actually handed them a victory. I don't think that's the case. Personally, I think when Washington realized that they have lost this conflict in Syria, they had a scorched-earth policy. They want to make sure the country is destroyed as much as possible in all the inner fighting between various groups and the Syrian Arab Republic and now that they have created a terrible mess, taking, you know, an advanced Arab country that Syria was at least infrastructure-wise back into Stone Age, the country is terribly destroyed and who's going to have to clean the mess? Iran and Russia and so, in that sense, I think Mr. Trump's business decision was very shrewd. They cut their losses early. They are going to be present in the region especially in Syria and northern Iraq - I refuse to call it Iraqi Kurdistan; it is northern Iraq - and whenever these Special Forces do see a need, it is a lean and mean machine. They're going to unleash it in all sorts of covert and illegal operations.
Tasnim: Some analysts say that the US withdrawal would be a victory for Iran. What is your assessment of the Islamic Republic’s role in developments which led Trump to take such a decision?
Azadgan: I have to be realistic here and we have to be fair and balanced and especially academic in answering this question. Yes, to some extent, this is very important, to some extent. The fact that Washington is withdrawing from Syria might be considered by some as a victory for Iran and also the fact that Iran will have quite possibly permanent presence in Syria at the invitation of what was left of the government of Bashar al-Assad. There are all sorts of talks and issues that Bashar al-Assad may step down or take some kind of a ceremonial role and somebody else may take his position. These are all speculations but we don't know. This is what geopolitical analysts are forecasting. As far as the victory for Iran, to some extent, because of those Iranian bases close to Israel. This is going to create a challenge for Iran because Israel is not feeling it's some sort of an existential crisis from Iran and the presence of Iranian troops there and also close to the Golan Heights. I don't believe Syria is in any position to if the terrorists are actually defeated in Raqqa and other places, which in my opinion they will not going to be completely defeated. I think Washington and her European allies especially France are going to make sure these savages and these terrorists are going to somehow survive in some area of Syria which would have Washington's protection but I don't believe Syria isn't any place to threaten Israel. I also don't believe Iran is in any serious advantage to attack Israel. Iranians are having all sorts of financial issues, the war in Yemen, their support of Shiite Houthis in Yemen and the support of the legitimate government of Syria. That of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has left Iran in a difficult financial position and when you add the sanctions that have been in place especially the phase two of these sanctions of Mr. Trump in November of this year 2018, I believe, is going to make it difficult for Iran to have a carte blanche in Syria to do what it wants, also as far as the assessment of a victory for Iran, I think, unfortunately, the Russian and the Turkish alliance that has formulated, even though Turkey was on the side of the terrorists and actually downed Russian aircraft, that alliance between Turkey, Iran, and Russia as was exhibited in the Astana Peace Accords has to some extent left Iran out and it seems to me that Turkey and Russia are looking for solution among themselves in how to carve up Syria. So, Turkey has a solid plan, Turkey wants to defeat the Syrian Kurds and the so-called YPG which was put together by Washington among other allies in Europe. I think these are going to be problems for Turkey. So, Turkey is going to have an excuse to intervene in this part of Syria. So I don't think this war is over and yes, the perseverance of the Iranians, the perseverance of the Syrian people, the perseverance of the Syrian Arab army, if they have in fact driven Washington out could be considered some kind of a victory even though as I said it's a hollow victory because the Syrian infrastructure for all purposes is destroyed unless China comes in and Russia comes in to rebuild it especially with China. So we'll have to see what happens. The fact that this story took place that President Trump announced the withdrawal of United States troops from Syria during the holiday season, during the Christmas season, when nobody was paying attention. I think this was also strategic. The media is not exactly covering or the people are not exactly the American people or you could even say the European masses are not necessarily paying close attention to what's happening in the Middle East because of the holiday season. So, I think the timing of this was also very very strategic.