On May 12th, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS James Jeffrey took part in a Hudson Institute conversation and made some notable statements.
The topic was “Maximum Pressure on the Assad Regime for its Chemical Weapons Use and Other Atrocities.”
Among other things, Jeffrey apparently hinted that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad government was supporting Hezbollah against Israel with providing all sorts of weapons and that he questioned the notion that they would stop at providing chemical weapons.
After all, there’s ample accusations of the Syrian government using chemical weapons, little evidence, but it’s become clear that evidence is not what’s important.
US Special Representative for Syria Amb. Jim Jeffrey says the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is passing “all kinds of weapons to Hezbollah, I don’t see them stopping at chemical weapons”
— Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) May 12, 2020
He further underlined that US sanctions were “squeezing” Iranian presence outside of Syria.
“We have seen the Iranians pulling in some of their outlying activities and such in Syria because of, frankly, financial problems … in terms of the huge success of the Trump administration’s sanctions policies against Iran. It’s having a real effect in Syria,” said Jeffrey.
“We do see some withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces. Some of that is tactical because they are not fighting right now, but it also is a lack of money,” Jeffrey said.
Just days earlier, there were reports in Israeli media claiming that Iran was withdrawing from Syria, due to an increase in Israeli airstrikes, among other things.
Jeffrey, however, dismissed the claims, saying that it wasn’t a withdrawal, since the movements didn’t mean any “major strategic change” for Iran or its allied forces.
“What we have not seen — and I want to underline this — is any strategic Iranian commitment not to try to use Syria both as a second launching pad for long-range weapons against Israel and as a conduit — the famous Shia Crescent — on to provide Hezbollah more lethal and more modern precision-guided missiles, again, to threaten Israel,” he said during a May 7 briefing.
According to him, the “maximum pressure campaign” was working, and that it should continue, it should even be made tighter.
“My recipe is more of the same,” Jeffrey said, adding that the United States must “work with the Arab world and Europe to ensure nobody goes wobbly — as Margaret Thatcher once famously said — on sanctions.”
During the same Hudson Institute conversation, Jeffrey also hinted that, the US forces in Syria had a more important role than fighting terrorists, and, in fact, it was to turn the Middle East into a “quagmire” for Russia. To essentially impede their actions and movement, and, generally, get in the way.
“Our military presence, while small, is important for overall calculations. So we urge the Congress, the American people, the president to keep these forces on, but again this isn’t Afghanistan, this isn’t Vietnam, this isn’t a quagmire,” Jeffrey said during the Hudson Institute video event. “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.”
Jeffrey admitted the Russian military has been successful in Syria, but argued “they don’t have a political way out of their problems” with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the US aims to offer “a way forward” through the UN – presumably referring to Resolution 2254 that Washington has long interpreted as “Assad must go.”
Asked why the American public should tolerate US involvement in Syria, Special Envoy James Jeffrey points out the small US footprint in the fight against ISIS. "This isn't Afghanistan. This isn't Vietnam. This isn't a quagmire. My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians."
— Jared Szuba (@JM_Szuba) May 12, 2020
Jeffrey’s mention of a “quagmire” like Afghanistan is a sort of a throwback, given that’s precisely what the Carter administration did in 1978, covertly supporting Islamic militants in that country in order to provoke a Soviet intervention.
According to Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, this was done to lure the USSR into their own costly, never-ending war such as the US experienced in Vietnam.
On May 7th, during the press briefing, Jeffrey said that the US saw Russia was “unhappy” with President Bashar al-Assad.
“We, as I said, do see the Russians unhappy with Assad, and this has been something relatively new that they’ve been so vocal about it. But – and we have seen some tactical displacement of Iranian, some of it because they don’t need as many ground forces and they’re expensive at a time when they’re under sanctions pressure from the U.S. and also COVID financial pressure. But these may be tactical actions. Also, it’s typical of the Russians to show more or less tactical flexibility with us on a Syrian solution, while at the end of the day defining what a compromise is in terms that looks like it’s 80 percent our compromising and only 20 percent Russia compromising, which is not acceptable to us or to the many countries that work with us.
In terms of getting Russia out of Syria, that has never been our goal. Russia has been there for 30 years. It has a long-term relationship with Syria. We don’t think it has been healthy for the region. We don’t think it really is even healthy for Russia. But that’s not our policy. Our policy right now is to restore the situation in 2011 before the conflict began, and that would eventually lead to all of the other military forces that have entered leaving. Ones were most interested in, of course, are the Iranians and the Iranian-commanded militias.”
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